Harry Maguire has opened up on his season of misery and insisted he will bounce back, beginning in England’s upcoming Nations League programme which begins on Saturday.
The Manchester United captain has been jeered by fans of his own team at club and international level as his form has nosedived. But the 29‑year‑old defender made it clear that the bomb threat to his family home on 20 April was beyond the pale. “There is a line,” Maguire said.
“We are human beings. I do have a family. People ask if it affects me. My mentality is that it doesn’t affect me too much but when it comes to bomb threats, it is more about family.
“I’m just happy my kids are at an age where they don’t read things and see things on the news. If my kids were an older age, they could see things and go to school and people are speaking about it. That is when it affects you a little bit more.
“I’m in a position where I’m going to be criticised. Manchester United paid a large sum of money for me. It is one of the most loved clubs in the world and also one of the most hated in the world as well.
“We know we are under the most scrutiny. I totally accept criticism when we concede goals or make mistakes. I’m big enough to accept people getting on my back and saying I can improve.”
The bomb threat came the day after United’s 4-0 defeat at Liverpool and led to Cheshire police returning to carry out a precautionary sweep of the property.
The previous month, Maguire’s late substitution in United’s Champions League exit against Atlético Madrid was cheered by a section of the Old Trafford support and in his next game – for England against Ivory Coast in March – he was booed by some fans at Wembley.
“I have had amazing times with the [England] fans and I am not going to let the minority – I don’t know how many it was, 10-20 people doing that in the Ivory Coast game – affect my relationship with them,” Maguire said. “I was a bit shocked. I wouldn’t say I was hurt and upset. I know my family and friends might have been affected by it but I was more surprised.”
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, who has always backed Maguire, called the boos “an absolute joke”, saying other players might wonder whether they would be next for that kind of treatment and question whether they should continue to join up. In England’s bad old days, some players were reluctant to report for international duty.
Maguire said: “There were a lot of young lads in the team that day, a lot of young people in the stands, lots of kids watching who aspire to grow up and be an England footballer, so for them to hear that for somebody who’s been involved in a such a big part of the journey over the last five years, it’s sad to see.
“It probably affects them [the young England players]. That’s why it was a little disappointing. We spoke about it as a group. But I’m sure there will be many good times ahead when the England fans will again show their support and love.
“I am my biggest critic. Although there are a lot of critics out there, I’m actually still my biggest! The next biggest is probably my dad.
“If that had happened earlier on in my career, I would’ve struggled that night. But I’m 29, I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and I’ve learned to deal with it through experience. I’m sure I’ll be back to playing my best football very soon.”
Maguire, who said he had yet to speak with the new United manager, Erik ten Hag, did not pull his punches on the club’s dismal season.
“You could see towards the end, the confidence wasn’t there,” he said. “We can look at individual performances but every player has not performed to a level … apart from Cristiano [Ronaldo] with his goals.
“But if you look at individual performances, it’s hard when you’re playing in a team when collectively we’ve not been good enough.
“Football’s my life. I care about every day at the club. For it to end the way it has – sixth in the league, knocked out of the cups in games we should be winning … it was disappointing from the start to the end.”
England are preparing for Nations League ties against Hungary (on Saturday) and Germany away (next Tuesday), then Italy (11 June) and Hungary at home (14 June), in their penultimate get-together before the World Cup finals tournament starts in Qatar on 21 November.
It was put to Maguire that, given his form, it was a good thing for him that the finals were not about to begin in their usual June slot.
“That’s fair to say,” he replied. “After the season we’ve had, all Manchester United players … I mean, there’s only me here in the squad now. Are we among the favourites for the World Cup? Definitely and rightly so.
“In the semi-final against Croatia in Russia [in 2018], we had the talent to win that game but we didn’t have the mentality or belief.
“The big thing now is that we have a lot of players who play in big European games for their clubs week in, week out, fighting for the biggest trophies. That experience is crucial in tournaments.
“We were a penalty shootout away from winning in the biggest pressure in football – the Euros at Wembley [last summer]. If we can deal with that, I’m sure we can deal with the pressure of a World Cup.”