Maguire will launch ro­bust de­fence at trial

➤ De­spite his af­fa­ble na­ture, the Eng­land coach is ready to show a strong-arm ap­proach when play­ers step out of line

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Mike McGrath and Ja­son Burt

Harry Maguire is con­vinced he has a ro­bust de­fence for this week’s trial in Greece, where he faces al­le­ga­tions of at­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers and of­fer­ing a bribe.

The Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion has of­fered its sup­port to the Manch­ester United cap­tain fol­low­ing his ar­rest on the Greek is­land of Mykonos early on Fri­day.

Maguire does not need to at­tend his case to­mor­row in Sy­ros, where his le­gal team are set to present a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events re­ported over the week­end. The 27-year-old has pleaded not guilty, deny­ing all al­le­ga­tions against him, and has faith in his side of the story be­ing heard and the process play­ing out.

United have been in touch with Maguire’s representa­tives to check on their £85mil­lion sign­ing, who spent two nights in a cell be­fore ap­pear­ing in front of prose­cu­tors in a hear­ing on Satur­day. Maguire is un­likely to face a prison sen­tence even if con­victed as the case has been down­graded to a “mis­de­meanour” and it has been re­ported that it is pos­si­ble to buy his way out of a jail term if con­victed and sen­tenced, as part of a scheme in Greece to ease over­crowd­ing in pris­ons.

Greek re­ports have cited the start of the trou­ble oc­cur­ring when Maguire’s sis­ter, Daisy, was be­ing ha­rassed and then pos­si­bly stabbed in an arm. Maguire was be­lieved to be part of a party of six cou­ples, made up of friends and fam­ily, who were out for the night in the Fabrika area of Mykonos.

The Hel­lenic Po­lice re­leased a state­ment on their of­fi­cial web­site fol­low­ing the ar­rest of three men in Maguire’s group, al­leg­ing as­sault and “at­tempted bribery”.

“Three for­eign­ers, aged 27, 28, and 29, were ar­rested in Mykonos by po­lice of­fi­cers of the Mykonos Po­lice Depart­ment [for] dis­obe­di­ence, bod­ily harm, in­sult and at­tempted bribery of an em­ployee,” read a state­ment. Maguire’s trial to­mor­row is on the day Gareth South­gate names his Eng­land squad for the Uefa Na­tions League trips to Ice­land and Den­mark next month.

United have not com­mented beyond ac­knowl­edg­ing Maguire’s plea, in­sist­ing it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate while the le­gal process is on­go­ing. Maguire is un­likely to is­sue a public state­ment un­til af­ter the trial.

Tim­ing, as much as any­thing else, dic­tates that Harry Maguire could for­feit his place in the first Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als for 10 months. At the pre­cise mo­ment that Gareth South­gate is due to an­nounce his squad for next month’s Na­tions League vis­its to Reyk­javik and Copen­hagen, Maguire is the sub­ject of a hear­ing in Mykonos to­mor­row over al­le­ga­tions of at­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers and of­fer­ing a bribe, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Even for a player who has built up such an abun­dant stock of good­will through his per­for­mances for his coun­try, this is not the type of un­for­tu­nate coin­ci­dence that a head coach can let slide.

The wrench for South­gate is that Maguire, over th­ese past four years, has em­bod­ied Eng­land’s evo­lu­tion from a dys­func­tional rab­ble hu­mil­i­ated by Ice­land to a like­able young side who se­cured the na­tion’s first World Cup semi-fi­nal ap­pear­ance for 28 years. “His po­ten­tial is huge,” South­gate said af­ter the cen­tre­half’s tour­na­ment de­but in Rus­sia. “He has great com­po­sure, and re­ally good de­fen­sive qual­i­ties. He has a lovely, calm tem­per­a­ment.”

Sadly, it is this tem­per­a­ment that to­day lies un­der mer­ci­less scru­tiny, as a Greek court strives to estab­lish the facts of what hap­pened in the small hours last Thurs­day night. Eng­land’s head coach, too, awaits a co­gent ex­pla­na­tion for how a restora­tive hol­i­day in the Aegean de­scended into the chaos of Maguire be­ing pur­sued by cam­era crews en route to a Sy­ros court­room.

It was meant to be a harm­less dose of sun­shine be­fore the most fran­tic sea­son of the Manch­ester United cap­tain’s ca­reer. In­stead, it has left the lead­er­ship cre­den­tials that he has spent a ca­reer cul­ti­vat­ing un­der a black cloud.

While lurid ex­ploits abroad have heaped dis­grace upon many an Eng­land perennial – think Paul Gascoigne and the Hong Kong “den­tist’s chair” – Maguire was, in South­gate’s view, the least likely can­di­date for a skir­mish. His public per­sona was scrupu­lously guarded to the point of bland­ness. About the edgi­est de­tail was the “Den­nis the Men­ace” nick­name be­stowed by his Eng­land team-mates, out of re­sem­blance to the car­toon char­ac­ter.

Through­out the Covid cri­sis, he has been up­held as a paragon of virtue, work­ing with Jor­dan Hen­der­son to cre­ate the Play­ers To­gether pro­ject and ar­rang­ing food de­liv­er­ies for the el­derly in Mos­bor­ough, his home vil­lage in York­shire. In other cir­cum­stances, th­ese de­tails might of­fer com­pelling mit­i­ga­tion for South­gate. But select­ing a player un­der ac­tive po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Greece is sim­ply not a ten­able de­ci­sion for any Eng­land coach to take.

For all South­gate’s de­cency and af­fa­bil­ity, th­ese del­i­cate judg­ment calls are ones where he can ex­er­cise a marked ruth­less­ness. When

James Maddison lapsed last Novem­ber, find­ing him­self pho­tographed in a casino the day af­ter he with­drew from the Eng­land squad through ill­ness, the coach sharply told the Le­ices­ter mid­fielder that he needed to be “high-per­for­mance, low-main­te­nance”.

Dis­ci­pline is cen­tral to the phi­los­o­phy in­stilled by South­gate, who helped to frame the Football As­so­ci­a­tion’s code of con­duct, ex­plic­itly pre­clud­ing phys­i­cal as­sault and in­tim­i­dat­ing be­hav­iour. He has also shown a strong-arm ap­proach to es­tab­lished stars when the oc­ca­sion has de­manded it. When Ra­heem Ster­ling be­came in­volved in a spat with Joe Gomez dur­ing Eng­land train­ing last year, South­gate wasted no time in drop­ping him from the Euro­pean qual­i­fier against Mon­tene­gro, ir­re­spec­tive of his sig­nif­i­cance to the team.

It is this treat­ment of Ster­ling that coun­ters any as­sump­tion South­gate will act purely out of prag­ma­tism, keep­ing Maguire be­cause he fears for Eng­land’s chances of beat­ing Ice­land with­out him. An ex­em­plary dress­ing-room cul­ture has been per­haps the defin­ing hall­mark of his ten­ure.

To pro­tect it, he de­serves the fullest an­swer for why, on a sup­pos­edly quiet sum­mer break, his de­fen­sive linch­pin has drawn such toxic pub­lic­ity to­wards the team.

Draw­ing at­ten­tion: Harry Maguire leaves court on Sy­ros af­ter his hear­ing on Satur­day

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