Manchester United had a £70 million bid for Harry Maguire rejected Tuesday morning. Leicester City are seeking £75 million for the defender but that’s not the point.
The move signaled that after a year of rumors and being linked with the Englishman, United have officially stated that they are keen on signing the defender.
That news was of course met with the usual round of criticism all across the twitter-verse.
“That’s way too much for a defender.”
“Paying Van Dijk money for Maguire is mad.”
“He’s overrated because he’s English.”
I like when teams get linked to spending crazy money for a defender. It’s a brilliant way of letting me know which pundits and fans don’t understand the modern game.
Football is based on goals, whoever has more goals at the end of 90 minutes wins. Goals in football are inherently rare (only two or three are typically scored in a 90 minute match). Therefore someone who scores goals is far more valuable than someone who doesn’t.
That’s the way that football has thought for over 100 years. That’s why strikers fetch the largest transfer fees, then attacking midfielders, then midfielders, then defenders, and then goalkeepers. Strikers are the ones who will score the most goals.
Except the thing is, there’s a lot more that goes on in a football game than scoring goals and only now are teams starting to realize that.
It’s very hard to quantify a defenders worth. The main reason for that is because the primary job of a defender is to prevent goals from happening. In a game where there are maybe three goals scored over 90 minutes that means there are a ton of moments where goals aren’t happening. It’s not easy to measure whether those goals aren’t happening because of a specific person or not.
Sometimes it’s easy. Last January Liverpool spent £75 million to sign Virgil van Dijk. The price was briefly laughed at, until Van Dijk quickly turned Liverpool from a good but flawed team into a juggernaut.
Van Dijk isn’t the exception to how much teams spend on defenders. He’s the beginning.
Now that we know that if you want quality defenders you’re going to have to start paying striker prices, we can look at whether Maguire is the right guy for that. The question shouldn’t be “should United be spending £75 million on Harry Maguire” it should be “does Harry Maguire improve United’s defense.” If he does, you spend the £75 million.
To answer that, let’s look at Harry Maguire.
For context, let’s look at Virgil van Dijk, essentially the gold standard of center backs.
Van Dijk is clearly better, but hey, Maguire ain’t that bad. But now, let’s see how he stacks up against the defenders United currently have.
Maguire would certainly be an upgrade over what United currently have, but whether he would be a major one or not is a whole other question.
Individually, Smalling, Lindelof, and Jones aren’t bad. They each have pluses and minuses. Lindelof doesn’t win a lot of balls in the air. Smalling’s passing is poor. Jones has too many boneheaded moments.
I’ve always felt that the hate United fans have had towards Jones and Smalling is a bit harsh. They’re competent defenders. They’re totally fine as squad players. What they can’t do is play together, certainly not for a team that wants to compete in Europe.
Maguire would help this team out. His presence and composure (not to mention ball playing ability) would significantly balance out United’s back line. He’d make Smalling, Jones, and Lindelof better.
What he won’t do is solve United’s defensive problems.
United had their worst defensive campaign ever in the Premier League last season. That wasn’t because of their goalkeeper. It wasn’t because of their defenders either (Smalling and Jones had been the two guys for years).
It was because their midfield left them out to dry. Constantly.
That’s where my buddy Sean Longstaff comes in. He’s the young kid from Newcastle United have been linked to. The one fans think “hasn’t played enough.”
Buddy. Let me tell you something.
United’s defensive problems start with the immobile Nemanja Matic clogging up midfield. With fullbacks Luke Shaw and Ashley Young (and Antonio Valencia) pushing up the field and not having the pace to get back, Matic had a lot of ground to cover. Far too much ground for someone who has his kind of pace.
This becomes even more important after the loss of Ander Herrera, who was the reason United were able to play as attacking under Solskjaer as they did. It’s not a coincidence that United scored less and conceded more when Herrera wasn’t on the pitch.
Part of the reason Smalling, Jones, and Lindelof looks so lost last year is because they never knew where to go. They had to cover for their fullbacks who were caught out of position. They also had to cover the middle of the field because teams were able to plow right through their midfield.
Longstaff isn’t a quick fix. At 21 he’s still developing. But you sign him now in hopes that his development continues and that by March he’s ready to replace Matic full time.
United have already begun to address this issue. Signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka shores up the right side and reduces the amount of times the center backs would have to cover for the fullbacks.
Adding Maguire would stabilize the back line even further and bolster the team’s spine. But just doing that isn’t enough. You have to snuff out the danger before it becomes a full blown fire. That’s why you need to sign Longstaff.
Maguire is worth the money, but if you just sign him, it won’t fix the problems.