Belfast Telegraph

Why Harry Maguire is up there with best defenders in Europe, explains Southgate

By Simon Peach

Gareth Southgate has hailed Harry Maguire as one of the best ball-playing defenders in Europe ahead of the England centre-back stepping out on home turf.

Since going to Euro 2016 with his friends to watch the Three Lions take on Slovakia, it is fair to say the 25-year-old's ascent has been remarkable.

The last 15 months have been particularly impressive after swapping relegated Hull for Leicester, where he swept up at the end-of-season awards before starring in England's run to the World Cup semi-finals.

Maguire repaid Southgate's faith in spades in Russia, and the Three Lions boss believes the defender is one of the best around.

"I was first and foremost delighted he was fit and available," the 57-cap former defender said ahead of tonight's friendly against Switzerland in Leicester.

"The reason for that being when I was watching him during last season I knew that on the biggest stage he'd be able to perform and excel.

"I was so pleased he was going to have the opportunity to do that, and he delivered.

"He's a superb defender, he's really effective in both penalty boxes, and the way that he brings the ball forward and can use the ball is as good as anything in Europe in my opinion.

"I think he proved to himself as much as anything that against some top players and some top teams in the lead-up to the finals, during the finals and again Saturday night that he can compete with the very best."

Maguire did well in Saturday's 2-1 Uefa Nations League defeat to Spain and is in line to win his 14th cap when England take on Switzerland in a friendly at the King Power Stadium.

"It has been a crazy last couple of years," he said. "From the summer, just the experience of playing in big games, at a World Cup, playing in high-pressure games. In my career I haven't really done that, so to go out there and play in a World Cup and play under the pressures there, it gives me belief that I can have another good season."

Maguire's performances led to summer interest from Manchester United, but the defender stayed at the King Power Stadium and recently signed a new deal until 2023.

"After the World Cup I came back and sat down with the owners and they reiterated what they wanted to do," Maguire said. "They wanted to reward for me a great season. I am looking forward to the future now and where we can go as a club."

Asked if there was ever a possibility of leaving in the summer, he said: "No, I don't think so."

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