Whenever Roy Keane has a microphone in his hand, it’s probably best that Harry Maguire keeps his fingers in his ears.
Another game, another scathing assessment of Maguire’s performance and, most damningly, his character from the outspoken pundit.
You may have thought Keane would be pleased to see Maguire, a player so desperately out of form for Manchester United, rise above the chatter and the Albanian back line to head in England’s first goal.
Roy Keane has frequently been unforgiving in his assessments of Harry Maguire
Keane was unhappy with Maguire’s celebration after scoring for England against Albania
Even if he was, that soon changed when Maguire wheeled away cupping his ears, then put his fingers into them as he slid on his knees.
‘I think that’s embarrassing,’ said Keane during his stint on ITV’s coverage. ‘He’s been a disgrace the last few months for Manchester United. He thinks he scores there he’s shut his critics up — embarrassing.’
Well, there is no more vocal a critic of Maguire right now than Keane and it certainly did not shut him up. Maguire insisted afterwards his celebration was aimed at no one in particular but, well, you can believe that if you really want to.
Before United’s game against Tottenham, Keane was asked to reflect on the previous 5-0 defeat by Liverpool. He ended up doing a mocking impression of Maguire’s ‘robotic’ voice. Once again, Maguire was a ‘disgrace’.
‘An absolute disgrace to the club,’ said Keane of Maguire and Luke Shaw. ‘I remember Maguire talking in the week, he was like a robot.’ Then, in a monotone drawl: ‘He was like, “Errrr, ohhh apologies to the fans”, there was no emotion behind it. Maguire talking about, “We need to come together as a group”. No. You need to sort your game out.’
Maguire has struggled for Manchester United this season, as Keane has acknowledged
DANNY MURPHY: HARRY MAGUIRE’S REAL MISTAKE WAS NOT OWNING HIS CELEBRATION
Harry Maguire’s biggest mistake wasn’t his goal celebration against Albania, it was the subsequent denial about what it meant.
Cupping his ears to silence critics was silly but understandable. It didn’t do him any favours because it overshadowed the fact he scored and played well but I also have empathy because it’s not always easy to control your emotions if you have been hammered for weeks.
But having made the ill-advised gesture, the Manchester United captain should have then been honest afterwards, explained he’d been under pressure and over-reacted.
He would have received more sympathy by owning the situation that way instead of the rather shallow claim that his signal hadn’t been directed at anyone. I don’t think many will believe that.
It’s a shame really because apart from the way he reacted to scoring, Maguire had a good night and deserved his clean sheet.
United fans will hope it marks a turning point in his form but I’d be wary of basing that wish on one game against Albania, who posed far fewer problems than Maguire will face in the Premier League.
Maguire should have been honest after the game when discussing his celebration
I think the key to Maguire’s recovery is his fitness. With his size, he needs to be in peak physical condition to play well and that’s not been the case this season. He was probably rushed back too early from injury, and needs to get that side right — then better performances will follow.
It’s interesting how many England players did well at Wembley having struggled at their clubs for different reasons.
Sometimes a fresh environment can be a release, particularly for someone like Harry Kane who wouldn’t have faced the same scrutiny from England fans that he’s had at Tottenham. Kane’s hat-trick is great news for Antonio Conte, who would have noted he never strayed too far from the penalty area.
I am sure the England captain has been trying to do the right things for Spurs but he has clearly suffered mentally from seeing a move to Manchester City fall through. It has affected his form for longer than I thought it would but he will score goals again at club level, I am sure about that.
Raheem Sterling looked fresh and hungry after being sidelined too often for his liking at City. Jordan Henderson also deserves praise for his performance in midfield.
Gareth Southgate will love the fact that Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have competition — Henderson isn’t going anywhere.
It was left to Micah Richards, Keane’s studio sidekick, to leap to Maguire’s defence on Saturday. He tweeted: ‘People: Footballers are like robots, they have no personality! Harry Maguire: Scores the opening goal for his country, celebrates with real passion whilst referencing those who have been criticising him. People: That’s embarrassing.’
By ‘People’ he means ‘Roy Keane’.
But for all those contradictions, for all the caricatures, viewers are now disappointed if they don’t get to see Keane in full flow.
Manchester United lose and they want to see Keane come off his Bob Willis long run. And it’s usually Maguire who’s taking guard. The delivery is always brutal.
It’s blunt and it’s relentless. But, whatever your view of him, it has now become a part of the show. For some, it is the show. The football is just the material. When Keane’s not there, it feels like a key part of the spectacle is missing. It’s like watching The Best of the Two Ronnies and not seeing Ronnie Barker ask for fork handles.
On the day United lost against Liverpool, social media clamoured for Sky Sports to get Keane beamed into the studio via satellite at half-time.
It’s easy to see why. There was the time United drew with Tottenham in June last year and Keane was so disgusted he said about Maguire (and David de Gea) that he ‘wouldn’t let them on the bus after the match’; that he’d be swinging punches in the dressing-room and telling them they should hang their heads in shame.
Keane said there were question marks regarding Maguire at the start of his United career
Or when he claimed: ‘If I were a striker, I’d love to be playing against someone like Harry Maguire. He clearly lacks speed and hasn’t got the positional awareness to anticipate the danger.’
It’s not the only time Keane has called Maguire slow. At the start of his United career, Keane said he ‘still had one or two question marks’ over Maguire’s defensive ability to play for England and United.
‘I always worry about his pace on the turn, I remember the first goal against Crystal Palace where he’s not doing the basics — covering round his other centre-half. Listen, he’s 26 years of age now, you’re worried if you’re pointing these things out to him.’
Maguire’s 28 now and Keane has been pointing them out ever since. And, if his latest soundbite is anything to go by, he’s not going to stop any time soon.