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In 2011, Maguire progressed through the ranks to make his debut at Sheffield United. Fast forward ten years, and the centre-back is an England regular and the Manchester United captain.  

Here are a few things that helped him get there. 

 

Creating the right environment for players is vital. Safe, fun and inclusive sessions will keep them coming back and improving their skills.  

Sure, Maguire’s an elite footballer now, but don’t forget that everyone’s story starts at grassroots level. The positive environment he experienced meant that he kept returning and, at a young age, found a sport he loved.  

“I joined a team when I was like seven: Brunsmeer Athletic in Sheffield. It was a great time for me, an enjoyable time.  

“The main thing for me when I was a young boy was to make sure that I enjoyed the game, the training sessions, the tournaments that I played in, and I played with a big smile on my face. I certainly did that, and Brunsmeer enabled me to do that.  

“I think that’s the moment that I fell in love with the game.” 
 

Practising on different surfaces can give you different returns – something Maguire appreciates. But he also believes that it doesn’t always matter where you play. It doesn’t matter where your Wembley is. Just getting out and taking part will help you to develop.  

“I’ve played on a lot of astroturf, especially during the winter months [when] you can’t find a pitch to play on. I think when you fall in love with the sport of football, you try and play wherever you can.  

“You go home and play in the park, or you go to school and play in the playground. I think it’s just getting a ball and playing wherever you can.  

“Yeah, definitely [playing on different surfaces can help you develop skill]. The harder the pitch is to play on, then when you do play at Wembley, it feels a lot easier than it would playing on a playground with things that test your touch a lot more.  

“It improves your skills. But just getting as much practice as you can with a football, whether it’s doing keepy-uppies or passing the ball against a wall, I think that’s what enables you to improve your skills.”   

 

We’re always advocates of young players experiencing a variety of positions on the pitch. Avoiding early specialisation can help players develop their all-round skillsets. In Maguire’s case, he has taken the skills and knowledge from his time in midfield and used them to become a modern-day centre-back.  

“I played central midfield really from seven-years-old all the way up till I was probably 16. I always see myself as comfortable on the ball. And it probably helped me back then playing in that position to how I am now – in terms of stepping in and being able to see passes through the lines.  

“I’d say it’s a big part of why I feel comfortable and composed on the ball. It really helped me growing up.”  

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Bringing the ball out from the back

Being an active defender

As well as having the ability to bring the ball out from the back, Maguire believes it’s important to develop good perception skills so you can be an active defender. Someone who can read the game and be a step ahead of the opposition.  


“I know a lot of talk has been on improving your game on the ball. Of course, you need to be good on the ball. To become a top elite centre-back, you need to play with the ball because every top club builds from the back… but first and foremost, the most important thing is being able to defend.  

“Remain active, remain switched on. I think it’s really important for a defender to be an active defender. Whether it’s being on the front-foot, being aggressive, making interceptions, being on your toes, squeezing up the pitch when you can, nicking yards and just being one step ahead of the striker – that’s the most important thing for me.”  


Knowing how to deal with 1v1 situations

Whether it’s because of a counter-attack or your defensive strategy, 1v1s are often common in matches. Take England as an example. If their opponents get into the final third out wide, the focus shifts to 1v1 defending excellence. So, knowing how to deal with these situations – and being able to prevent them – is key to play at the top level.  

“First, you need to know a little bit about your attacker. What their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, what foot they use, where you want to show them, and what cover you’ve got in defence as well.  

“So, generally, if you’re 1v1, you do feel 1v1, but there’s always cover around you. You need to show them where the bodies are – where you’re going to get less exposed. But for sure, the main aim is not to get yourself in a 1v1 situation.  

“Act quick, react quick, and be on the front-foot and try and be ahead of your attacker.” 


Advice for young players

Maguire, who made his international debut in 2017, has over 30 caps for England. For those dreaming of playing on the international stage, he has three bits of advice: work hard, be a good listener and enjoy playing the game.  

“I think the main thing is hard work. From a young age, you’ve got to keep dedicated. Keep working hard and obviously listening to your coaches. Whether it’s a tiny percent that they can improve you, one percent or five percent, all these little things add up in the long-term. I’m still learning from my coaches now. I still pick up good points and ideas and try to implement them into my game. 

“Everybody’s dream is to play for their country. So for me, work hard, keep enjoying it and play with a smile on your face.  

“Like I say, keep listening to your coaches, and every day just keep trying to improve; you never know where it can take you.”  

You can see more of our interview with Harry Maguire on our
YouTube channel