The public mockery of Harry Maguire, the hapless Manchester United and England defender, has moved from being a bit of a joke to something a little more troubling, sinister even. The abuse, ridicule and attention he gets is way over the top, and increasingly resembles a publicly-sanctioned collective humiliation of one player.
The unfortunate Maguire is seen as some kind of rubber doll, to be poked and harangued by one and all, rather than an ordinary human being with vulnerabilities. He is simply expected to suck up the abuse every time he steps on the field. What’s all this howling about? It isn’t just because he isn’t much good as a defender but also reflects a nasty envy and rancour generated by the knowledge that he ‘earns’ millions for being useless.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is right to call for an end to this public goading of Maguire. He rounded on the defender’s tormentors after last night’s 3-1 friendly victory over Scotland, describing the perpetual attacks on Maguire as a ‘joke’.
Southgate blamed ‘pundits and commentators’, who he claims have helped turn the Manchester United player into a figure of derision: ‘They have created something that is beyond anything I have ever seen.’
Maguire was mocked by Scotland supporters after he scored an own goal during the England victory last night. The goal came when England were leading the game 2-0, so it momentarily gave Scotland hope of a comeback. That, unfortunately, is what Maguire does: he gives the opposition a chance, making him something of a walking liability on the football pitch. He has become the butt of jokes everywhere, from his own fans at Old Trafford to every away ground.