Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spent much of his pre-match press conference before Sunday’s 4-0 win against Chelsea defending some of the moves Manchester United didn’t make in the summer transfer window rather than having the chance to dwell on some of those they did complete.
They hadn’t replaced Ander Herrera in midfield, while the late sale of Romelu Lukaku had not led to a new striker being added in the Belgian’s stead. And the concerns of many United fans were reflected in the line of questioning on Friday as Solskjaer was put through a fair old interrogation.
But the Norwegian tried his best to accentuate the positives in response. After all, this was a week in which United had finalised a world-record £80 million transfer for a defender in bringing in Harry Maguire from Leicester. And by Sunday night it was the England centre-back whose name was on everybody’s lips after a commanding debut.
It will clearly take more than an impressive 90 minutes for Maguire to justify United’s outlay. But it was always true that the transfer fee came out of a variety of factors beyond simply comparing the two clubs’ valuations and the market rate for similar players.
United needed an upgrade on what they had in the centre of defence. They needed a ball-playing defender with a fearlessness about his game with and without the ball. They needed a leader. And, perhaps just as importantly, they needed somebody who could make an immediate impact.
In Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Maguire, United were bringing in players who wouldn’t need much time to familiarise themselves with the surroundings. Unlike many of the club’s signings in recent times these were proven assets in the English game’s sometimes frenetic ways, players who need no history lesson on exactly what it takes to be a Manchester United player both on and off the field.
Wan-Bissaka was electrifying against Chelsea, and James made the kind of appearance as a substitute for which Solskjaer himself became so renowned. But it was Maguire above all who fitted in most assuredly. Alongside Victor Lindelof, he just slotted in as though he had been playing for Manchester United his entire career.
Paul Pogba was in no way surprised by his performance since, as the Frenchman explained afterwards, Maguire had taken just as confidently to training in the week running up to Sunday’s match. “I call him ‘The Beast’,” Pogba told reporters after the game. “Honestly, as you saw, he was really impressive. He is a leader, he fits right in with us in training.
“We talked about controlling the defence well and he has a good understanding with Victor. It was a very good match to start with from the whole team.”
The word ‘leader’ is one which has been attributed with regularity to Maguire over the past week. “Top centre-backs don’t sweat, look calm, don’t spend time on their backsides, win headers, are composed on the ball, cover others and lead by example,” said Gary Neville in a tweet on Monday, and the former United captain is not the only one who has drawn attention to the 26-year-old’s natural ability to take responsibility for the entire side on his shoulders.
There were, of course, times when United conceded territory and gave up chances, with Chelsea striking the woodwork twice in the first half, and it is something Solskjaer admitted afterwards would need to be improved upon. But what he couldn’t stop beaming about was the instantaneous difference made by Maguire after only a few days in the camp.
“Harry’s just had three or four sessions with the team, but he’s such an experienced pro who wants to learn,” said Solskjaer. “We’ve had a couple of talks with him as well about how we want to play, about how he normally defends and how he plays, so that will only improve.”
Certainly, the initial signs could not be better.