Harry Maguire votes for Raheem Sterling and bright future for England

Harry Maguire has seen enough, both in training and on the pitch. It is the time of year when footballers choose their player of the season and the Leicester and England defender’s vote has already been cast. “I went for Raheem Sterling,” Maguire says in a break between England training sessions.

“He’s been the best player in the Premier League. He’s scoring goals, creating goals and believe me he’s a nightmare to play against. I think the poll should take place later, at this stage you don’t know who is going to win the title, but I don’t think I would be changing my mind.

“Raheem was good last year and this season he has taken his game to another level. It’s exciting to have someone that good playing for England, we should cherish him, though we’ve got a few really fast, sharp young players in this squad now, and the thing about Gareth [Southgate] is that he gives them opportunities.”

Maguire admits he has occasionally fouled Sterling in training. “Sometimes that’s the only way you can stop him. In a game all you can try to do is mark him, grab him, get tight to him. If you get into a foot race then he’s going to go past you, but what centre-halves have to do is try to use their strength and anticipation to nullify pace.

“It’s probably harder to be a defender now because attackers are getting quicker and the level of contact in the game has gone down over the last 10 years or so. You have to be careful, because dangerous tackles are punished a lot more, and you have to use your brain to read the game and try to be one step ahead of the striker. Stay on your feet, as you were told as a kid, and try to intercept the ball rather than make contact with the player.”

Harry Maguire, left, and Raheem Sterling embrace after defeating the Czech Republic.

Harry Maguire, left, and Raheem Sterling embrace after defeating the Czech Republic. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters

That is the theory anyway. Maguire fell victim of accidental contact with Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson in a league match last Saturday and was dismissed after four minutes. “That’s the kind of thing that can spoil your whole weekend,” he says.

“You prepare all week for a game and then you last four minutes. It would have been a lot worse if we had lost the game. We won and I have Wes Morgan to thank for that.

“I couldn’t have any complaints about the decision. As soon as I heard the whistle I knew it was a red card. I’ve heard people saying it was harsh because I didn’t mean to touch him but the rules are clear. He was going clear on goal and I clipped his heels. The referee got it right.”

Had VAR been available at Turf Moor it would not have helped Maguire, though he does believe the technology next season will assist referees in fixing the problem of pushing and shoving in the box, as it did at the last World Cup. “It will balance out in the long run,” he says.

“I do believe there still has to be some contact in the game, because if you are not bumping into your man at a corner you are not getting tight enough. A little push or a nudge should not be enough for a penalty, but being silly by grabbing someone round the neck is obviously different.

“It’s up to the laws as to what is deemed soft, but I don’t think you can outlaw all contact in the box because that’s how you defend – you get tight to your man and try to use your strength.”

Maguire, at 26, seems to have been around so long it is easy to forget he made his England debut 18 months ago. Since then, as he proudly points out, he has been called up for every squad for which he has been available. “Though a lot has happened it is only a year ago that I was playing my first games for England, and I was nervous, like everyone else is in that situation,” he says.

“At that time Jamie Vardy was in the camp and he helped me a lot, because I knew him from Leicester. Now I’m a regular member of the squad and I know what to do to help new players settle in. You have to speak to them, especially through the game, and give them confidence. Every young lad’s dream is to play for England but when you get the chance there’s bound to be pressure and a few nerves.”

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England do not always reach semi-finals in successive summers, Southgate’s squad is breaking new ground in that respect, and even if the Nations League cannot really class itself as a tournament Maguire believes it has already helped the team build on what was achieved in Russia last year.

“We are the only World Cup semi-finalists to get through to the Nations League finals, so that shows the progress we are making,” he says. “There was talk after the World Cup that we hadn’t managed to beat any of the real world-class sides, so it was nice to be put in a group with Croatia and Spain and come out on top. Beating Spain, especially, was great for our confidence. Now we’ve got summer to look forward to when we might win a trophy.”


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