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
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