England manager Gareth Southgate has been impressed by Harry Maguire’s response since his sending-off against Denmark last month.
After a solid first season at Manchester United in which the world’s most expensive defender was named captain, the 27-year-old has recently come under intense scrutiny on and off the field.
Maguire was withdrawn from the England squad in September after being handed a suspended 21-month prison sentence following an incident in Mykonos during a pre-season break. The defender maintains his innocence and is appealing against the verdict.
That Greek court case appeared to impact performances and his poor form with United continued on to the international scene, with the centre-back’s sending-off for two bookable offences proving costly in the shock 1-0 home loss to Denmark.
But Maguire has rallied impressively since then for club and country, whom he led out as captain for the first time on Thursday before opening the scoring in the 3-0 friendly win against the Republic of Ireland.
“With Harry, I was really pleased,” England manager Southgate said. “I felt that the red card here could bottom everything out.
“You could see on his face when he was walking off the pitch that night how he was just having one of those spells where he must have felt everything was against him.
“Lovely moment for him to captain the team and to get the goal as well is a real boost, so that was great to see.”
Maguire will be unavailable for England’s trip to Belgium following the red card against Denmark but will remain with the group as they look to secure victory in Sunday’s crucial Nations League clash before hosting Iceland.
Harry Kane, who was an unused substitute against Ireland, will reclaim the armband in Leuven, where the Three Lions skipper is set to win his 50th cap.
“I think the first game we had with the under-21s…he started on the bench – which showed what we know about talent observation,” former Young Lions boss Southgate said.
“But he came into the game as a 10. We were away in Finland and he came on as a 10. We had Saido Berahino as a nine and he immediately created a goal that got us an equaliser.
“I know there seems to be more emphasis or more spotlight on that part of his game now, but he’s definitely always had it.
“He’s as good a provider and as good a passer as he is a finisher and he is, of course, an outstanding finisher.
Beyond Kane, Southgate has a growing number of attacking options to call upon.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has broken into the England set-up this season and relishes the pressure for places, but the in-form Everton forward believes he could also work well alongside star man Kane.
“I think, ‘Why not?’ It’s yet to be seen,” he said of the potential partnership, having scored the penalty that wrapped up the 3-0 win against Ireland.
“We have not tried it out yet. We did for 30 minutes against Denmark when we were chasing the game. We both played up there and we played a bit more direct.
“But he is a top player and I am pretty sure we can be compatible together.
“It depends how you see it (the pressure) really. I like to look forward and look ahead.
“I don’t like to look back and concern myself too much with what else is going on.
“Pressure is unseen. It’s what you place upon yourself and how you perceive it to be.
“I’m enjoying my football and I tend not to put too much pressure on my shoulders.”