DOHA – Harry Maguire has brushed off lingering illness worries to resume training and will once again helm England’s defence when they take on the United States on Friday.
That the news – confirmed by Jordan Pickford in his impromptu role doling out England injury updates – prompts a sigh of relief rather than a howl of anguish speaks volumes for how quickly things can change in the life of the most talked about footballers in this side.
Maguire is a lightning rod for Three Lions criticism and the quickest way to connect with the locals out here in Qatar has been to mention his name. Few seem to rate the Manchester United defender, which is how it has often felt when he’s turned up for England duty over the last 12 months.
More fool them. For all that Maguire’s form in red has been a national obsession, Monday night provided a reminder of the transformation that occurs on the biggest stages with England.
Against an admittedly limited Iran attack, Maguire looked assured as part of Gareth Southgate’s back four. A greater test will be provided by a youthful USA team for whom Tim Weah looked a real threat in their opener but Maguire retains the full confidence of his teammates and manager.
Pickford is one of those prepared to go to bat for Maguire. The pair are no strangers to criticism, aware that their errors are raked over so forensically partly because they are England fixtures now. He is bewildered by those who don’t see the qualities Maguire brings to the team.
“Harry (Maguire)’s been unbelievable,” he said.
“I’ve got a great relationship with him, the majority of my caps have been with Harry playing in front of me and we work really well together. I think our defensive record with him playing there is really good as well.
“Harry needs to be respected a lot more but that’s football. Part of that is you’re going to be criticised but Harry is mentally strong. I think it’s a bit unfair but his performances on the pitch show how good a player he is and why he’s got so many caps for England. He’s in a very good moment.”
There’s a suitably relaxed air about the England camp that stands in marked contrast to the summer of discontent that has just passed.
Taking apart Iran in their opening game was a reminder of the menace they pose when they play with fluency and ingenuity and the form of Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka provides real optimism. But nobody in the camp needs to be reminded that if England are to go deep in the tournament they will need to replicate some of the defensive solidity that carried them through Euro 2020.
It was put to Pickford that England might have reminded themselves of their quality in that opener but he demurred. Confidence has never been a problem for this group.
“Our main aim is to win the World Cup. That’s why everyone’s here and it would be great for us,” he said.
“We do have little conversations about that because it’s what we want, it’s our end goal but we’ve got to get to the end game first.”