Gary Neville says Gareth Southgate could leave Harry Maguire out of England’s World Cup squad to protect him with injury and errors seeing the defender in the spotlight.
Erik ten Hag has had to field questions on his captain Maguire throughout the early part of his reign at Old Trafford, and the centre-back endured another difficult week on international duty last month as he was at fault for two of Germany’s goals in a 3-3 draw at Wembley.
Injury kept the defender out of the Manchester derby, but Neville believes England boss Gareth Southgate will now be seriously considering dropping him from his starting XI at the World Cup.
He told Monday Night Football: “I think it’s got to the point now where the injury he’s got, the form… I think Gareth Southgate will be seriously thinking of leaving him out of the team now just to protect him. He’s making mistakes and nothing is going his way.
“You can’t find your form in a World Cup – particularly this one. There’s no warm-up games, there’s no build up. Fulham play Manchester United on the Sunday and a week later, you’re expected to be in form for the World Cup. He might not have played for three or four weeks on top of the weeks he’s not played already for United.
“It’s getting to that point where I think Southgate may be thinking that he has to bring in other centre-backs.”
On seeing a psychologist…
“Harry has not been in a good place. You watched him a week ago for England and it’s tough for him at the moment. Really tough, and there’s been a lot of scrutiny on him. England just don’t have the pool of centre-backs and I think he has got a lot of credit in the bank from his performances for England over the last few years.
“Gareth Southgate trusts him and wants him in there. There’s no doubt if there were another three or four top-class centre-backs behind him in the same way Trent Alexander-Arnold is competing with the full-backs then he wouldn’t be in the team, but they haven’t got that at this moment in time.
“I remember seeing a psychologist the season we missed the FA Cup after winning the treble because we were in the inaugural Club World Cup. There was a massive noise over in this country because we went over to Brazil and I made two mistakes against Vasco da Gama. I went from being on top of the world to feeling massively under pressure to the point where for the next four or five months I was shocking.
“I didn’t want the ball and I was hiding in games, getting subbed in Champions League quarter-finals against Real Madrid. I then went into a tournament with England in 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands where I was horrific. I was shocking, and I remember saying to the doctor at United that I needed to see someone.
“I didn’t speak about this until after my career but I remember having six or seven sessions, just purely to talk it out with people to go through some coping mechanisms. I think perspective is a really important thing as a footballer. All of them are going to have bad moments and these things happen. You need perspective and coping mechanisms.
“They worked for me but I’m not saying it will help for everybody but I think Harry is at that stage where he needs to seek some solace away from football. Speaking to your team-mates and your coaches about these types of things isn’t easy.”
Carra: Maguire needs to be playing to keep England place
Maguire has not started for United in a Premier League game since the 4-0 defeat to Brentford, and while Jamie Carragher defended the player’s record in an England shirt, he feels it is becoming increasingly hard to make a case for his inclusion if Ten Hag continues to leave him out of the United side.
Carragher said: “I thought the criticism Gareth Southgate got for playing him because he hasn’t been playing for Manchester United, I thought was absolute nonsense. He’s been England’s best centre-back just through his performances in the last two tournaments. He was in the team of the tournament in the last Euros. Southgate had to pick him just to see where he was at, and where he was fitness-wise.
“I had no problem with him being picked in the game but they obviously didn’t go well and that is a big worry as he doesn’t normally perform like that for England. But he performed poorly off the back of not playing for United. Gareth had to find that out for himself but what it has done is it’s created a big problem. I don’t think England can go into a World Cup now if Maguire is not playing for United.
“I don’t think you can go into a tournament where you’re facing the best players in the world. You have to think about Maguire’s mental state, where he is confidence wise. I think the criticism he gets is over the top and it’s a bit bullying. It’s got to that stage, certainly on social media, ridiculing the lad for what he’s done – especially in an England shirt.
“John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were two of the best centre-backs in the Premier League but they still never achieved what Harry Maguire has in an England shirt in terms of getting to a semi-final of a World Cup and the final of a Euros.
“I know it’s a team game, and Maguire isn’t as good as those players, but in an England shirt he’s achieved a lot. It makes it very difficult for him to start in a World Cup if he’s not playing for England.”
Is Qatar Southgate’s swansong?
On Southgate’s own future, Nevile said: “I would only say it’s the end of an era if it feels like a natural end for Gareth in the sense that he’s taken it as far as he can and achieved unbelievable things.
“If you said to me that Gareth Southgate was going to take us to the tournament beyond this one, I’d have no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, I’d say he deserves it. Even if England don’t have a good tournament, he deserves it for what he’s done previously. A final? A semi-final? It’s unbelievable what he’s achieved.
“Maybe it’s not enough for some people it may not be enough, but for me who sees England as their biggest disappointment in their football career and post-football career, I think it’s absolutely unbelievable what he’s achieved and what these players have achieved is remarkable.
“I’m proud of every single one of these players for England. They’ve absolutely performed well above anything I would ever have expected.
“When they go to the semi-final in Russia, I thought they’d struggle to get there again because Croatia in the semi-final was an unbelievable opportunity. But to get to a final in the Euros was amazing and beating Germany at Wembley.
“I wouldn’t say Gareth has done enough to choose his time to go, but with the FA and the relationship they have, they will say to him ‘what do you want to do after this tournament?’. Gareth is smart enough to know when the time is coming because when the tide turns with England and the media turn, it can be the case a little bit that your time is up. But I don’t think that is the case at all.”
‘I’d leave after World Cup if I were Southgate’
Carragher added: “It was a lot of idiots who were speaking about Gareth Southgate [to be sacked] and speaking about how well we’ve had it before. It was awful before, let’s be honest, and what Gareth Southgate has done and where we were when he came in.
“It doesn’t mean you get grace forever, but England managers should only be judged on tournaments. Forget qualification, we beat a big team in a friendly – I don’t care one bit. I don’t really care about the Nations League.
“What has Gareth Southgate done in tournaments? We’re a big enough nation where you judge England on tournaments. I don’t ever expect to go to a tournament and for England to win – that’s obvious because of our record – but what he’s done in tournaments is close to matching Sir Alf Ramsey.
“There’s also this idea that Gareth Southgate is holding this squad back. it’s absolute rubbish. This squad is not better than the squads we played in, it’s not better than Euro 96 or 1990. It’s a very good England squad, and we usually do have a good squad, and we’re normally just short of the best teams in the world.
“Gareth has got closer than anyone before, but the idea that he’s holding us back is rubbish.
“In terms of Qatar, if I was Gareth, I’d be looking at the way the feeling has been over the last few weeks and if England don’t get to semi-final or final now… If I was Gareth Southgate, I’d walk away after Qatar. No matter how it goes, you can just feel it turning.
“Sometimes it’s boredom, it’s like being a club manager for five or six years, but as soon as it goes a little bit, you want something new and fresh. So if I was Gareth Southgate, I’d leave after Qatar.”
‘England know how to get it right in big tournaments’
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Maguire’s position in the England side, Neville feels there is plenty of grounds for optimism heading into the World Cup after Southgate’s side showed character to come back and avoid defeat in their last outing.
“I really enjoyed the England vs Germany game,” he continued on the Gary Neville podcast. “I was really happy for Gareth in the second half and that response. There were four Nations League games in the summer and then two here, those four were a bit of a joke. I don’t think anyone wanted football at that point in the year.
“The fans didn’t want them, the players didn’t want them, the coaches didn’t want them. Ahead of a long season and the World Cup, it wasn’t right. I switched off myself from England in the summer. And the players did.
“Gareth is suffering a little bit in terms of how they’re doing and the run-up to the World Cup. It’s dangerous to say it, I don’t feel like that. Where those players have got to, who have got to World Cup semi-final and the Euros finals, you get to those Nations League games and it’s a massive come down.
“I just think they’ve switched off – I don’t think we or Gareth should condone that because there’s 90,000 fans turning up for games sometimes and thousands of England fans travelling abroad spending lots of money. You can’t say that’s good enough and it’s not,
“But I get it a little bit, especially when you have people like Kevin De Bruyne speaking out against this tournament in the summer. I don’t really get the Nations League, it was quite good in the early years when it replaced friendlies but it suffered badly because of the World Cup and it’s taken a battering.
“I remain as confident of World Cup success as an England fan, going into the tournament. Because I’ve seen here today (Phil) Foden and (Jack) Grealish. And (Harry) Kane yesterday in a disappointing Tottenham game. And I saw (Bukayo) Saka and players like Ben White. We’ve got some pretty good players.”
Will Rice-Bellingham axis expose England?
Neville said: “We’ve got a couple of issues but we have some good players who are going to cause a lot of very good teams problems. Kalvin Phillips is touch and go and I love Jude Bellingham.
“I loved watching Bellingham in England vs Germany. I used to watch Bryan Robson driving the team forward in difficult situations. Bellingham did that, he was absolutely outstanding. There will be an avalanche of enquiries from the Premier League soon, if not already.
“That Rice-Bellingham pivot looked ok but it might leave England a little bit open. I do want to see Bellingham in the team somewhere so I don’t know how that’s going to work. But you saw the quality of Mount coming on the other night and you see the players we have, I’m still encouraged by England and Gareth.
“They’ve got it right in the last two tournaments and they know how to get it right. What we’ve seen in the Nations League, it’s not them. Their CV is not that, it’s better than that. I think they’ll switch it on. They’ll get there to the World Cup and go ‘here we are, here we go’.
“The Fulham vs Manchester United game is the last Premier League game before the World Cup on November 13 and we’re basically there. There is absolutely no time. The players will be fit and ready.
“We’ve complained for years about summer tournaments and being knackered at the end of the season and the Premier League suffers more than most. We have no excuses. Qatar will be 20 to 21 degrees, it won’t be too hot. The time difference is just a couple of hours so it won’t be a problem. The stadiums are excellent, I’ve been over there. I understand the controversy about building them and I abhor that and we can discuss that in a separate conversation.
“However, England’s players should be hitting peak. I remember when I was playing in October, November and December and going: ‘I’m going through the English winter and I’m flying’. You get to May and June the year after and you’re flagging.
“I still remain really optimistic. There’s a lot of pessimism and it was far too much. I’m all for pessimism at the right time but there was too much for Gareth, too much for the team and I didn’t feel the depression and deflation that others have felt. Am I missing something?
“I don’t see an outstanding candidate to take over from Southgate at this time.”