Manchester United believe they need Harry Maguire so badly that they have agreed to pay Leicester City £80m for the centre-back, who will become the world’s most expensive defender if he passes a medical.
The fee eclipses the £75m that Liverpool forked out to Southampton for Virgil van Dijk in 2018 and United hope Maguire will make an impact similar to the one the Dutchman has had at Anfield. Manchester City were also keen on hiring Maguire but recoiled at the price.
Leicester, who rejected lower bids from United earlier in the summer, refused to budge, leaving United with no choice but to hand over an unprecedented sum or shop elsewhere. The club saw no other suitable option, especially after a previous target, Matthijs de Ligt, left Ajax for Juventus.
If the agreement represents a negotiating victory for Leicester, it also leaves Brendan Rodgers with a big gap to fill in his squad before the season kicks off. He is likely to make a move for Brighton’s Lewis Dunk.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, meanwhile, will be satisfied that his defence has been substantially reinforced, with Maguire’s probable arrival following the capture of the right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who joined from Crystal Palace for £45m
United hope their signings will not stop with Maguire. They remain keen on Paulo Dybala and have asked Juventus about the availability of another of their attacking players, Mario Mandzukic. Juventus say they will contemplate selling the Croatia striker only if a swap involving Dybala and Romelu Lukaku goes through. Both clubs want the swap to happen, and Lukaku is also happy with the arrangement, but they are waiting for Dybala to decide.
United have work to do in that regard. Dybala will not consider joining unless he is among the club’s top earners and is demanding higher wages than have been offered. His image rights, which are owned by an agency, and the money sought by his agents could also be stumbling blocks.
United have made their defensive revamp a priority, however. They conceded more goals than any other team in the top half of the Premier League except for West Ham – and the toll would have been heavier still but for David de Gea, even if the goalkeeper had a substandard season.
Maguire, too, was a little below his best last season. He went into that campaign on the back of an excellent World Cup with England and a splendid first season at Leicester, whom he joined from Hull City for what has proved a bargain £12m fee (rising to £17m).
Although he was often superb last season, he also had uncharacteristic lapses and his sloppiness spilled over into his performances for England in the Nations League in June. That highlighted a truth that Maguire and United must address: although the 26-year-old is set to change clubs for a world-record fee, he is not yet a world-class player
But he does have outstanding qualities and a proven ability to rise to fresh challenges, having played his way up from the lower leagues to become an England regular. Most of his appearances for his hometown club Sheffield United came in League One.
His attitude is exemplary and nothing about his character suggests he will create strife in a United squad whose mentality has been questioned in recent seasons. Solskjær has been at pains to ensure new arrivals bring positivity, not preciousness.
Maguire’s aerial power will also be a welcome addition to United’s backline. It was one of the factors in Leicester conceding fewer goals from set pieces last season than any other team in the Premier League. He is also strong in the tackle and a smart reader of play. Although his primary duty at United will be to secure their defence, most likely alongside Victor Lindelöf, especially now that Eric Bailly faces four to five months out with a knee injury sustained during pre-season, he is also much better equipped than the club’s other centre-backs to launch attacks.
He can play out well from the back, blessed with a decent range of passing, neat feet and a fondness for barnstorming runs forward. He will need to judge such surges well, however, because he does not have the speed to recover after giving ground to top forwards.
Maguire is a very good player who could become invaluable to United with the right guidance. It is up to Solskjær to show the coaching skills needed to help him perform consistently to the level required, which, presumably, at least means qualifying this season for the Champions League, in which Maguire has never played.