Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Merson surprisingly picks Man Utd star as England’s best player at World Cup after rising above ‘scary amount of pressure’

Paul Merson

Former Arsenal forward and football pundit Paul Merson

Manchester United had the best player for England at the World Cup, according to Paul Merson, who has explained why those thinking the man in question was partially at fault for their elimination are misinterpreting things.

England’s World Cup journey recently ended at the quarter-final stage after a defeat to reigning champions France. Goals from Aurelien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud sealed the Three Lions’ fate.

Harry Kane scored a penalty in between, but missed another as England sought a second equaliser. Another chance came when Marcus Rashford lined up a free kick, but he missed the target.

Hence, England’s wait to add a second World Cup honour to their history will go on. Although there should be no shame in losing to France, there have been plenty of questions asked in the aftermath.

That said, some are taking a more positive stance by highlighting who did well at the tournament. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham was one player whose stock certainly rose.

But according to Merson, England’s “standout player” was actually Manchester United captain, Harry Maguire.

Maguire went into the tournament as someone who had been a key member of Gareth Southgate’s teams in both the last World Cup and Euro 2020. However, this time around, there was pressure on him because of his decline in form at club level.

It has not been an easy year for Maguire, who has lost his place as a regular starter for Manchester United. Erik ten Hag has generally preferred to pair Raphael Varane with Lisandro Martinez instead.

Therefore, some wondered why Maguire was even on the plane to Qatar. But according to Merson, he never let his country down.

Harry Maguire absolved of blame and hailed as England’s best

The former Arsenal star told Sky Sports: “Plenty of players shone in Qatar, from Jude Bellingham to Bukayo Saka. People might not agree with this but, for me, England’s standout player was Harry Maguire.

“For someone who hasn’t played football and was under a scary amount of pressure heading into the tournament, he performed superbly.

“He turned up with so much pressure on his shoulders and I cannot remember him letting England down at any point.

“People will point to Olivier Giroud’s winner in the France game but the ball from Antoine Griezmann was so good there was nothing anybody in the world could have done anything about.”

As Merson referred to, Maguire was the player marking Giroud when the ball came in for France’s winner. He was unable to prevent the ex-Chelsea frontman from powering a header home.

Some might hold Maguire partially responsible, but Merson is not one of them.

It remains to be seen if he can carry his better form back with him to Manchester United. If he was able to, it would give Ten Hag something to think about for the rest of the season.

That said, there have still been rumours about Manchester United potentially selling the former Leicester City man. Ten Hag, though, is backing him for now to succeed at the highest level.

Indeed, the manager has acknowledged how consistent his number five is for his country. The task now for Maguire is to replicate that with his club, who invested heavily in him and will want to see him back to his best in their colours.

READ MORETen Hag draws up three-man shortlist to end Man Utd woes, with boss ‘pushing’ for one particular signing