The race to sign Leicester City defender Harry Maguire has taken another turn with Manchester United reportedly pulling out after being unwilling to pay his £100m fee.
That is a colossal sum to pay for a player with no Champions League experience to date but such is United’s dire need for quality centre-backs, most fans will likely be disappointed to see their club pulling their interest.
That said, rivals Manchester City are still said to be keen on bringing Maguire to the Etihad as a replacement for iconic former captain Vincent Kompany, who has taken up a player-manager role at Anderlecht.
Even before Brendan Rodgers’ arrival at Leicester City, which saw the Foxes climb nicely up the Premier League table, Maguire was well-renowned for his ability with the ball at his feet, having completed the joint-highest number of dribbles (5) of any centre-back and the sixth-highest number of successful passes (387) across all positions at the 2018 World Cup as England marched all the way to the semi-finals.
But since the ex-Liverpool boss switched Celtic Park for the King Power Stadium, bringing his possession-heavy style along with him, Maguire has stepped his game up to another level. Whether the 26-year-old is trying to impress his new boss or draw admiring glances from the Premier League’s big guns, Rodgers has had a marked effect on Maguire and potentially prepared him to step straight into Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team.
During the first half of the 2018/19 season, Leicester – then under the guidance of Claude Puel – had just a 49.33% share of possession, ranking eighth in the division behind the entire top six and Everton. Following Rodgers’ appointment on February 26, that share was pushed up to 53.97%, moving the Foxes above Man Utd and Everton and into the Premier League’s top six in terms of possession.
With that greater share of the ball comes a bigger responsibility on centre-backs to both receive and make passes under pressure as their side plays through the opposition press and into the space that leaves. Maguire, of course, excels in this sort of system. During Puel’s portion of 2018/19, the England international completed just 24.86 passes in his own half per 90 minutes, making 1.54 interceptions per 90 minutes as the Frenchman’s pragmatic style saw Leicester largely playing without the ball, attempting to soak up pressure.
During the season run-in under Rodgers, Maguire increased the number of passes he made in his own half to 41.77 per 90 minutes – quite a substantial jump – while even his accuracy in this department improved from 91.2% to 93.59%. Maguire’s interception rate dropped to 0.62 per 90 minutes as his role became more about retaining the ball rather than winning it back.
Even the man himself credited Rodgers for the effect he had on Leicester’s style and results, telling reporters in April: “He’s a really good coach who will improve us as a team massively. The club has shown really great ambition in luring him here.
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“He breeds confidence into players, he’s helping to bring the younger players through, does a lot of work on the training pitch and his man management is really top. He’s made a really big impact.”
Of course, even in the most possession-obsessed sides, it’s no good to simply keep moving the ball back and forth between defenders. At some point, you have to progress it forward and through opposition lines, whether that be as a team or by yourself. Once again, Maguire improved under Rodgers, increasing his dribbles per 90 minutes rate from 0.48 to 0.75 under the Irishman. As we saw – and came to love – throughout the World Cup and beyond, ‘Slab Head’ is no mere clogger of a centre-back and is far more graceful in possession than his frame would suggest.
These numbers are impressive in their own light but when held up against Manchester City’s defensive linchpin and one of the stars of the Premier League last season, Aymeric Laporte, you really get a sense of just how much Rodgers has torn up the copybook at Leicester City and just how much it plays into Maguire’s hands.
“Harry is a top-level centre-half, let’s make that clear, there’s no doubt about that.”
During the time following Rodgers’ arrival at Leicester, Laporte completed just 0.12 dribbles and completed 38.62 passes in his own half per 90 minutes. As we’ve seen, Maguire outperformed his French counterpart in both metrics (0.75 and 41.77, respectively) and while Laporte’s overall passing accuracy outstripped Maguire’s 92.7%-88.43% during that run-in, it must be noted that he had the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan constantly looking to receive the ball. Leicester’s midfield of James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans was good, but it wasn’t title-winning good.
At 26, you can’t help but feel the time is now for Maguire to make the step up to a team with Champions League-winning ambitions. Should the move indeed happen, is he ready for it? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, though: Rodgers has refined Maguire into a ready-made Guardiola centre-back. Let him slip away at your own peril, Man Utd.