There is no way that Manchester United can come out on top regarding the crisis that has developed around Harry Maguire’s worrying form. The situation for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is lose/lose.
Despite a respectable first season at Old Trafford following his world record £80m transfer from Leicester – weaknesses were seen here and there – Maguire has endured a disastrous start to the 2020/21 campaign and looks a shadow of the breakout star that impressed at the 2018 World Cup.
It is impossible not to think that the off-field events of the summer have played a part. Maguire awaits an appeal trial in Greece over a 21-month suspended prison sentence following an initial conviction on charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery.
The United skipper, who spent two days in a jail cell following his arrest on the island of Mykonos, vehemently denies all charges and maintains his innocence. That alone is a heavy burden.
It is made far worse by the fact that United as a squad are in disarray. Last season ended with a little bit of a stumble towards the finish line, brought on by the fatigue of ‘Project Restart’ and Solskjaer’s unwillingness to rotate his team as a result of having too few reliable options beyond the first XI.
Without the necessary reinforcements that were expected, morale is low and confidence throughout the team is on the floor. What’s more, there is nowhere for anyone to hide because no one is currently pulling their own weight – let alone able to carry others.
Maguire cannot simply lean on his teammates while he works through his own issues, which has left his poor performances horribly exposed. He might have got away with being off the pace against Crystal Palace had Victor Lindelof been at the races, or against Tottenham next to an alert Eric Bailly. The reality is that both were arguably worse than Maguire in those respective games.
The sheer awfulness of Lindelof and Bailly have only served to put more attention on Maguire because at £80m and as club captain, he is supposed to be the one leading by example and pulling everyone else up.
Things only got worse for Maguire when, after a decent performance for England against Belgium, he was sent off in the first half against Denmark. The two yellow cards that yielded the red were entirely the result of his own mistakes and he rightfully trudged from the Wembley pitch.
There is no easy solution out of this situation for Solskjaer. While he has shown a ruthless streak in some sense by freezing out certain individuals, the Norwegian isn’t one to drop players, even just taking them out of the spotlight for momentary respite, as Rio Ferdinand has suggested for Maguire.
In a similar scenario with David de Gea last season, Solskjaer did little more than throw an arm around the goalkeeper, bury his head in the sand and hope the problem would sort itself out. You can imagine his approach to Maguire now will be virtually identical.
But is the alternative to just blindly sticking with Maguire any better of a plan? Probably not.
Cynically dropping Maguire might only serve to obliterate his clearly already fragile confidence, especially given that the player himself has been reported to be eager to keep playing.
Even if Solskjaer could convince Maguire that a short spell out of the team, allowing him to clear his head and just breathe after the events of the last couple of months, is for his own benefit, pulling him from the spotlight would only add to the media frenzy and intense scrutiny.
Arguably, that would make things worse, both for Maguire and the player(s) taking his place.
The only way this situation resolves for Solskjaer and United is if Maguire takes to the pitch against Newcastle on Saturday night and, out of the blue, suddenly plays like a player worth £80m. But, honestly, how likely is that in the circumstances?
This issue won’t be a quick fix and whatever Solskjaer decides to do, he and United can only lose.