COMMENT: That price-tag will make the headlines – and dominate the debate around this move. But it is the words and actions of Harry Maguire in his first hours as a Manchester United player which should have the support excited about what lays ahead.
First the actions. And it can’t been played down. In an era of stepping stones. Of always looking for your next meal ticket. Maguire tore up the script. The £85m man committing not only to a massive six-year contract – but even agreeing to an option of a seventh. As we say, at a club – and at this stage in their cycle – where the leading players appear (to put it kindly) to always have one eye on something better, Maguire drew a line in the sand.
Yes, there’ll be clauses in the deal regarding pay hikes and bonuses. But the cash side of things can take a backseat. At 26, Maguire is devoting his best years to United. Indeed, with a seven-year deal now locked away in the home safe, he’s committed the bulk of his playing career to the club.
For Maguire, this is it. United, even sixth-placed Europa League United, was his ultimate career goal. There’s no more stops after this trip. It’s United or bust. At a club where a perception has grown regarding the players feeling the club owes them more than they owe the club, Maguire’s commitment marks a watershed. A throw back to the days when players chased a move to United – and not the other way around.
And you just wonder, at the very brink of Maguire agreeing to these terms, whether his actions had an influence on his new manager pulling the plug on United’s move for Paulo Dybala, the Juventus striker. At the time of writing, the deal is over. Press claims in the UK suggesting the Argentine’s personal demands and the commission demanded by his agent turned United off. Though to be fair, the €15m stipulated by Jorge Antun is the stuff of amateurs when compared to Mino Raiola and his work with Maguire’s new teammate Paul Pogba.
In Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s homeland, they’re offering a different angle. The Norwegian press quoting a source close to the United manager insisting it was he who chose to drop the negotiations. Dybala’s hesitancy, in contrast to Maguire’s full blooded commitment, turning the manager off. If the Juve striker needed persuading about playing for Manchester United, then there was no point in continuing the discussion.
Maguire’s actions do promise a shift in the United culture post- Sir Alex Ferguson. As does his words. We’ve seen it with Solskjaer’s approach to the market this summer – and his work with the squad’s youngest members. There’s room for the here and now, but it isn’t a priority. The manager’s talk of building for the future. Of a three-year project. They’re not just some cute phrases to place in the news cycle. He means it. What Solskjaer has been discussing all summer was the same he pitched to Maguire during their meetings.
The former Leicester City defender, in his own words, confirmed as much on Monday: “Well, it’s a young team now and we’ve got big ambitions for the future. I think we’ve got to start winning trophies again and that’s something the gaffer wants to bring to the club, and his winning mentality as well, which will help all the boys.
“I think you’ve seen the players that we’ve brought in already this year. You can see they’re trying to build and improve on last season and I’m sure we’ll do that.”
At £85m, Maguire brings with him more than footballing ability. Like with Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the 26 year-old arrives humbled by the move – and determined to make the most of it. It’s about what he can do for the club, not how the club can help him sell his merchandise and endorsement deals.
Over 30 years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson made arguably his best signing: paying Norwich City just over £800,000 for Steve Bruce. The Geordie, like Maguire, working his way up the football pyramid before making the move just a few months older than United’s latest defensive signing.
The price-tags are a galaxy apart, but in terms of character the similarities are uncanny. It’s little wonder Ferguson has been Maguire’s biggest champion inside United. The Scot’s interest first dating as far back as 2011 when Maguire was turning out for a beaten Sheffield United in the FA Youth Cup final against Paul McGuinness’ Manchester United.
Bruce was the lynchpin on which Ferguson built his first great United team. Indeed, it can be argued without that famous Bruce brace against Sheffield Wednesday, United many never have broken their league title hoodoo.
In terms of character and courage, Maguire is a match for his old Hull City manager. Which beyond footballing ability, is what United have been missing in recent years.
Solskjaer has found his Steve Bruce. Maguire’s commitment to a potential seven-year stay is proof enough. The manager has his lynchpin – in ability and character – to build this new team upon.