After playing every minute of England's two Euro qualifiers during the international break, Harry Maguire will face a familiar situation when he returns to Manchester United ahead of their trip to Newcastle United this weekend.
Almost guaranteed his place in Gareth Southgate's team these days, Maguire faces a nervous wait before finding out whether he will start for Erik ten Hag at St James' Park on Sunday. His chances will likely depend on whether Raphael Varane is fit after missing United's last game -- the 3-1 win over Fulham -- because of injury.
Ten Hag hasn't tried to hide that Varane and fellow World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez are his preferred partnership at centre-back, an arrangement that's meant club captain Maguire has spent most of the season out in the cold. It leaves the 30-year-old with a decision to make in the summer: either stick it out as a bit-part player at Old Trafford, or leave in search of regular football elsewhere.
It says everything about Maguire's predicament that despite playing a part in England's first win in Italy since 1961 on Thursday, he still felt the need to come out fighting after the match.
"I shouldn't really need to prove myself at this level," he told reporters. "I've made over 50 caps and I'm England's top-scoring defender. I've played nearly 200 times for Manchester United and I've captained the club for three years."
Maguire lifted his first trophy as United captain in February after a 2-0 win over Newcastle, but it was shared with stand-in skipper Bruno Fernandes after Maguire was only asked to play the final two minutes. The England defender started United's last two games against Real Betis and Fulham, but it was the first time since August he was picked for consecutive matches. He has made just five Premier League starts all season, and two of those were the back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Brentford at the beginning of Ten Hag's reign.
Ten Hag has been largely supportive of Maguire since taking over as manager, but for many fans, the centre-back remains a symbol of the team that fell apart under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick before the Dutch manager arrived. Maguire was keen to accept the captaincy when it was offered to him by Solskjaer following his £80 million move from Leicester in 2019, but according to sources, it has come with more pressure and scrutiny than he expected.
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Having been culpable for a number of goals in Liverpool's 5-0 win at Old Trafford in October 2021, Maguire arrived in Italy for a Champions League group fixture 10 days later. His family, who often travel around England and Europe to watch him play, were out in Bergamo the night the game but had to leave a restaurant because of the abuse being directed at them by a small group of fans. There have been occasions when he's been booed by supporters inside stadiums -- playing for United and England -- while some of his mistakes have been made into memes that circle the internet.
Sources have told ESPN that Maguire can, on occasion, focus too much on social media criticism despite being advised to stay off Twitter in the immediate aftermath of matches. It didn't help last season that he also became caught up in dressing room politics involving Cristiano Ronaldo. According to sources, Ronaldo wanted to be captain and said as much to Rangnick, who took over as caretaker when Solskjaer was sacked in November 2021. Rangnick declined.
Ten Hag decided to keep Maguire as captain last summer, but made a point to his squad that no player was guaranteed a place in the team and that everyone would be judged on form. Because Ten Hag wants a right-footed player paired with a left-footed player in the centre of defence, Maguire has been competing for one place with Varane and hasn't done enough to dislodge the Frenchman since he was dropped for United's 2-1 win over Liverpool in August.
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Sources have told ESPN that United's coaching staff like Maguire's ability on the ball, but they also have concerns about his tendency to rush out to win challenges and a perceived lack of mobility. Opportunities have been few this season, largely because United have only lost three times when Varane and Martinez have started together.
If Maguire did decide to find a new club this summer, what options does he have? There was interest from West Ham in January, but the England defender decided to stay and fight for his place. He has a contract at United until 2025 with the option of another year, though there will be more clubs eyeing up a move in the summer after he's spent a season on the sidelines.
United need to sell to boost the summer transfer budget, and it's likely any reasonable offer for Maguire will be considered, particularly if Ten Hag firms up his interest in Ajax's Jurrien Timber. Asked in Italy to defend his record, Maguire came out swinging, but when it comes to United career at least, it might be time to throw in the towel.