The emergence of Leicester's Harry Maguire
- The big Englishman was widely considered as a top defender even before the World Cup, but the recent tournament has shown his true class
Other than being a month-long festival of football, the World Cup is a special occasion as it allows players the opportunity to escape the trappings of club football while redefining themselves in the colours of their respective national sides.
Many players come away from international tournaments with a new sense of freshness and vigour due to the new environment and exposure, a great example of this is Leicester and England centre-back Harry Maguire.
Playing for the Foxes in the Premier League, Maguire was often seen as the typical, orthodox defensive-minded player. Standing at 6ft 4in and primarily playing in deep defensive structures, he is incorrectly stereotyped in terms of his playing style given his physical attributes.
His current manager, Claude Puel, is known for regularly playing a flat back four. Maguire sits deep as his team-mates look to play on the counter-attack and rarely dominate possession against their opponents. This was even more evident during his spell at Hull City, meaning that his Three Lions call-up would mark the first time that he'd be playing in a possession-based system.
Maguire adapted to new rules excellently
In order to operate his new 3-5-2 formation, England manager Gareth Southgate needed three players who were all comfortable with the ball at their feet. Manchester City duo John Stones and Kyle Walker seemed like the ideal fit into this system, but Maguire's selection ahead of Chelsea captain Gary Cahill came as something of a surprise.
However, any uncertainty as to whether the 25-year-old would be up to the task in Russia was quickly dispelled during England's opening World Cup fixture against Tunisia. As the North African side continued to sit deep and soak up pressure, Maguire was invited to carry the ball forward - something he did confidently and with purpose throughout all of his matches.
In the modern game, ball-playing centre-backs are no longer a rarity. Maguire's centre-back partner Stones for example, has developed a reputation for his excellent distribution, technical skill and composure on the ball.
However, Maguire represents something different. At heart, the stocky Englishman is primarily a defensive player, who has honed his technical ability to a level few players of his ilk have been able to. In essence, his passing and distribution are a supplement to his defensive ability, which is the inverse of most other "ball-playing" defenders, who seem to consider their protective duties an after-thought.
By being given the opportunity to express his full range of abilities under Gareth Southgate's progressive and expansive England side, Maguire has shown his class while establishing himself as both a rare and equally excellent central defender.Published 13 Jul 2018, 08:39 IST