Man Utd boo boys are last thing inadvertent villain Harry Maguire needs right now
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You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself get booed during a pointless preseason friendly against Crystal Palace.
To be fair, “Slabhead” does sound like the kind of lesser Batman villain that Adam West might have ‘KAPOW-ed’ into oblivion back in the ‘60s, but that aside, Harry Maguire’s newly-entrenched casting as Manchester United’s most detested baddie feels a bit, well, excessive.
The defender was jeered and heckled at every juncture as his side coasted to a 3-1 win over their Premier League rivals in Melbourne earlier this week, with the overwhelming majority of derision coming from his own supporters. Never has a term been more ironic.
Now granted, Maguire has just put in a proper annus horribilis. At times, his performances last season were reminiscent of the early scenes in Disney’s Ratatouille, before the loveable rodent had figured out how to yank his ginger puppet’s hair just so; his movements were erratic, maladroit, and cumbersome, somewhere between a newborn giraffe and a haunted washing machine.
Once-heralded attacking forays offered all the finesse and efficacy of a giant squid playing a theremin in a phonebox, and his defensive instincts were seemingly as honed as the watchman who decided to drag an over-sized wooden horse full of Achaeans through the gates of Troy.
In one fell swoop, Maguire ravaged any lingering goodwill he may have accumulated during his international exploits with England, and was struck down as a sitting duck for vampiric meme culture, establishing himself as an idiom for all that is cack-handed and waning in the process.
Nonetheless, to see him scorned in the manner that he was against Palace feels nothing short of petty.
As things stand, Maguire remains United captain. New manager Erik ten Hag has thrown his wholehearted backing behind the 29-year-old, and has made it abundantly clear that he views him as an integral component in his plans for the coming season.
For the first time in a while, it feels as if fans have cause to be genuinely - if somewhat tentatively - optimistic too.
Ten Hag’s arrival, and all the restorative, lung-busting scrupulousness it promises to bring, could prove to be the catalyst for a number of improbable redemption arcs at Old Trafford. Already this summer, the likes of Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford have looked notably better - there’s no reason why Maguire can’t benefit from a similar transformation.
Players don’t become bad players overnight, but confidence, or a lack thereof, can be ruinous. This is, ostensibly, a chance for United to make a fresh start, but battering certain personalities for their reputational flaws will do little more than perpetuate the toxicity that has played a significant role in undermining the club in recent seasons.
It will also be interesting to see how consistent United fans are in their ire.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who puts the “pro” in “prodigal son”, has made little secret of his desire to leave Old Trafford before the transfer window closes. So desperate is his wanderlust that we’re about one step away from Jorge Mendes dressing him up in rags a la Oliver Twist and carting him through the Sky Sports News studio singing “Boy for Sale”.
And yet, should the five-time Ballon d’Or winner end up staying in Manchester, expect him to be met with eulogistic reverence when he inevitably shoehorns his way into Ten Hag’s starting XI for the Red Devils’ Premier League opener against Brighton next month.
Dissatisfied United fans will argue that the individual contributions made by Ronaldo and Maguire last season could hardly be further apart on the spectrum marked “Aptitude”, but if that’s the yardstick by which their adulation is measured, then logic dictates that its bad news for the other eight jobbers - (David De Gea just about gets a pass) - who have spent the past 12 months approaching matches with the organisational discipline and consideration for audience sanity of an improvisational comedy troupe.
By no means is this a call to arms for supporters to turn on Ronaldo as well, but in the grand scheme of things, at least Maguire actually wants to play for the club.
It also begs the question as to why the defender has been singled out for such unbridled criticism. Yes, he’s been bad (see Ratatouille-adjacent analogy above), but he’s not the only one by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, its hard to shake the impression that there’s a certain mob mentality at play - perhaps even on a subconscious level.
Maguire, sadly, has become an ubiquitous joke with an unfunny punchline. The last thing he needs is yet more ridicule from the one group of people who are supposed to have his back.
Hopefully, with a clean slate and a renewed sense of belief from his manager, ‘Slabhead’ can put his inadvertent life of villainy behind him and silence the boo boys once and for all.