Today’s profile is penned by Ian Rands. Ian a is a regular visitor to our pages; most recently penning a review of Alan Biggs’ new autobiography. Here he looks at perhaps the brightest of Sheffield United’s crop of teenage sensations:
It has been a whirlwind last 6 months for 18 year old Sheffield United defender Harry Maguire. He first came to prominence, as far as a majority of Blades fans were concerned, in April of this year. A key performer in the Blades’ run to the FA Youth Cup final, he made his league debut as a second half substitute against Cardiff and promptly contained Craig Bellamy with apparent ease. Whereas, to the wider football watching public, being awarded the NPower Player of the Month for August saw him receive wider acknowledgement of his abilities.Maguire is certainly a talented footballer. Strong in the air, a decent turn of pace – given his stocky build – and a comfort in possession that allows him to bring the ball out of defence and run at the opposition. His ability on the ball apparently stems from playing in midfield most of his schoolboy career, until a growth spurt 3 years ago left him the 6′ 3″ 14 stone rock he has now become. He also possesses a fearsome shot from his size 12s that has seen him put on free kick duty alongside more likely candidates like Ched Evans and Stephen Quinn.I first saw him in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup semi final against a highly rated Aston Villa attack. A couple of tackles he made in and around his own box that night can only be described as impeccable. Where the margins are so tight between perfectly timed lunge and penalty or red card, Maguire never looked like giving the referee a decision to make. He stood out as one of few stand out players, in a team whose success can be put down to a good, well coached squad of players, rather than one or two exceptional individuals.Before Maguire could play in the final, against Manchester United, Micky Adams put Maguire on his bench against Cardiff City. With injuries biting his squad hard, Adams needed defensive cover. I don’t think even the Blades boss could anticipate the speed with which he would blood Maguire, or the ease with which the Sheffield youngster would adapt to Championship football. His first team debut, early in the second half against Cardiff with United already one down, was fearless. Although he ended up being on the losing side by two goals to nil, no blame could be attached to him for the visitors’ second. From playing in front of a handful of spectators in an Academy match, to a low four figure crowd in the FA Youth cup, Maguire had just demonstrated his capabilities and enormous potential to an 18,000 crowd in the Championship.He retained his place for the remaining five games, which saw two wins, two losses and a draw, insufficient results to keep the Blades up. Despite this, Maguire looked head and shoulders above his more experienced centre back partner Neill Collins. Whilst Collins made numerous mistakes and faltered under pressure from both opponents and Blades fans, Maguire displayed no such negative facets. In fact it was his confidence in bringing the ball out from the back or his willingness to pass the ball out that caused hairy moments for those of us watching. We have not seen many ball playing centre backs in recent years!The Youth Cup final came and went in disappointing fashion for Maguire. Up against a strong Manchester United front line containing Will Keane and Ravel Morrison, Maguire was given as hard a test as he had been given in the Championship. It was all to end in even more desperate circumstances in the second leg at Old Trafford. Having drawn the first leg 2-2 at Bramall Lane, the Blades found themselves two down just on half time as a penalty doubled the Red Devils’ advantage. Then early in the second half Maguire fell awkwardly in a challenge and after a lengthy delay was stretchered off in a neck brace. Thankfully the injury was not serious, but a reshaped Blades team went on to lose 4-1.
Despite relegation, the Blades support did have brief flickers of hope for the new season, in that it would give an opportunity for Maguire and his Youth Cup final team-mates striker Jordan Slew and goalkeeper George Long a chance to shine. As I write, they have all been blooded to varying success and the potential of Slew has seen him transferred to one of the many empty seats in the Ewood Park stands. With few senior players moved on, Danny Wilson has been managing a large and unwieldy squad. However, one area where he is not blessed with extensive cover is in defence. That has been to both the benefit and detriment of Maguire and his development.
So far Maguire has played every minute of United’s season. With Chris Morgan and Johnny Ertl recovering from long term injuries, the only way in which centre back cover could be provided is by moving Lescinel Jean-François over from the left or Matt Lowton over from the right as there is cover in both full back positions. Clearly Danny Wilson doesn’t see that as an option. After a bright start defensively where United conceded just 4 goals in their opening 7 league games, the individual errors and lack of leadership that dotted last season’s campaign have returned to the fore. Both back four and defence lacking confidence to see out games and work together. Communications is key and an 18 year old in the middle of the defence isn’t going to change that. By his own admission he is a quiet lad.
Maguire clearly has huge potential, the danger is United become over-reliant on him at a significant stage in his career. He has been developed well in United’s academy and under John Pemberton’s tutelage the youngsters are encouraged to play football from the back, which holds him in good stead under Danny Wilson’s style of play. He has set such expectations in less than 30 league and cup games that when he fails to hit those heights he is not absolved of blame for recent failings. In recent weeks he has been trying too hard, possibly through anxiety, trying to get in front of the attacker rather than holding back when required.
Harry Maguire could be very good, at the minute he is learning and adapting to the physical demands of League One football. Give him time and he should blossom. Not bad for a lad who supports that lot from across the city.
Ian’s primary platform for his musings is A United View on Football. He can be followed on twitter at @unitedite