(AGENDAWATCHDOG) – Surprise enveloped the offices inside Old Trafford one weekday at the beginning of last month, before the United Kingdom was instructed to stay at home, as Manchester United’s club captain strode through the doors.
Flanked by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and managing director Richard Arnold, Harry Maguire arrived with the intention of proper introductions with the people who make United tick in the background.
Maguire, who was appointed Ashley Young’s successor in January, chatted with every member of staff, learning names and faces to greater understand the mechanics behind the scenes.
‘Harry believes that is an important part of the role,’ a source said.
He’s done similar at Carrington, although the trip to Old Trafford holds added significance to staff whose work is further removed from the actual football. More trips over there are planned for the future.
Bryan Robson was around that afternoon and, alongside Gary Neville and Steve Bruce, has been offering counsel to Maguire since the defender took the armband.
Those three former skippers, three of the finest in the club’s existence, have been sources of tangible advice over the past few months.
Responsibility rests on the shoulders of whoever is in command at United in times like these and the current incumbent is only too aware.
It is about striking the right note, Maguire is in constant contact with club officials to evaluate next steps over the coming weeks.
‘Harry knew that focus would quickly start turning towards players after lockdown was announced and realised that a United captain must take the lead,’ a source said.
Crucially, he was a powerful voice in the #PlayersTogether movement, an integral member behind Jordan Henderson in determining exactly where Premier League money should be distributed under the umbrella of NHS Charities Together, from hospices to care homes and beyond.
There were regular calls between the Liverpool and United captains to make sure the correct course of action was taken.
That was in a macro sense but there has been focus on the micro too. For the elderly and carers at home, in the sleepy Sheffield district of Mosborough, Maguire has funded and coordinated food deliveries, which started being sent out on Thursday.
Advertising the initiative on Facebook and in the Sheffield Star along with his family, the 27-year-old worked with the local grocers and suppliers to alleviate anxiety of shopping for those over 70. Little signed autograph cards are included in the packages with the message: ‘Stay safe.’
In many ways, the challenges of becoming the club’s secondary spokesman, behind manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, have been thrust upon Maguire. And certainly there is a degree of acclimatisation for a quiet individual who is not one for public attention.
After the World Cup in 2018, a summer during which United pushed hard to first land him from Leicester, Maguire avoided the overwhelming majority of commercial opportunities that came his way.
That undoubtedly is a trickier business at the heart of United’s juggernaut and suddenly, he is a voice at the forefront of public consciousness – even while players remain at home awaiting news on return dates.
In the days prior to finalising a world-record transfer last summer, United had mooted the idea of Maguire one day taking over as captain. Nobody thought it would be quite this quickly and, privately, he felt that day might arise in a year or two. Not six months into the new job.
Circumstances – namely Young’s mid-season departure for Inter Milan – have played their part and Maguire is proactively growing into the role, able to lean on a leadership group that includes David De Gea, Juan Mata and Lee Grant, the latter being their PFA representative.
His own leadership style is described as collegiate and over the past few weeks has gone beyond communicating on the squad WhatsApp group, Maguire checking in with those who do not speak up individually over the phone. He also made sure to send a subtle message to his team-mates during an interview with Sky Sports.
‘We’re doing a bit of both individual and group work, we’re trying to meet on a conference call every now and then,’ Maguire said.
‘We’re trying to do our bit, there’s not much else to do other than get your hour of exercise in a day, so there’s not much excuse for the lads in terms of not keeping themselves fit.’
That last sentence could easily have come from any of Neville, Robson or Bruce. Maguire appears to be learning the trade rather quickly.