Ferguson phone call and £76m mistake – how Man Utd found their centre-back

It all started at a near-empty Old Trafford.

Manchester United Under-18s, featuring the likes of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, had comfortably dispatched of Sheffield United in the 2011 FA Youth Cup Final.

A young Harry Maguire was in a Manchester hospital after being concussed in a collision, capping off a forgettable evening.

A few days later, however, the phone rang.

It was Sir Alex Ferguson.

The legendary United boss reportedly instructed Maguire to work hard, keep his head down and told him that, one day, he would play at the highest level if he took his advice on board.

Harry Maguire was knocked out in the FA Youth Cup final at Old Trafford
Harry Maguire was knocked out in the FA Youth Cup final at Old Trafford

Maguire, by all accounts, was left delighted and with a new-found confidence.

He soon made his first-team breakthrough at Bramall Lane and, two years later, he was on United’s radar.

When Sir Alex Ferguson left, he put David Moyes on the scent and suggested he make a move for Maguire.

He was identified as a potential target and would have cost just £4million, but instead headed to Hull City for a modest fee with United’s scouting team instructed to keep an eye on him.

Ferguson reportedly called Maguire with some words of encouragement
Ferguson reportedly called Maguire with some words of encouragement

They didn’t know it at the time, but it would turn out to be a costly mistake.

After impressing at Hull City, Maguire excelled at Leicester[1] City and established himself as one of the Premier League[2]’s top defenders.

Five years after missing the chance to sign him for just £4million, Maguire was back on United’s radar and it became clear just how much that decision had cost them.

Manager Jose Mourinho was desperate to land a top class centre-back, but a move for Maguire never came to fruition in the summer of 2018.

“I was not an idiot when I was crying in the last pre-season for a central defender,” Mourinho told Sky Sports a year later.

Maguire later made his Sheffield United breakthrough before joining Hull City and later Leicester City
Maguire later made his Sheffield United breakthrough before joining Hull City and later Leicester City

“First of all, he has physical qualities. If Maguire does not come, then today you have (Victor) Lindelof and (Axel) Tuanzebe, or Lindelof and Phil Jones. It’s a big difference.”

When new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived, he was also desperate to land his top class centre-back and Maguire again rose to the top of the shortlist.

He canvassed United’s England stars about their international team-mate and was left impressed with their assessment of Maguire.

But getting a deal done was far from straightforward.

Manchester City[3] were already believed to have failed with a £65million bid when United stepped up their interest.

Jose Mourinho was denied the signing of Maguire when the centre-back was at Leicester
Jose Mourinho was denied the signing of Maguire when the centre-back was at Leicester

A £70million bid was rejected in July, with Brendan Rodgers issuing a public warning to United, who remained hopeful of getting a deal done for around £75million.

“There will be a cut-off point,” Rodgers said. “We can’t leave ourselves short.

“There are targets we have in mind if Harry was to move on. But we don’t have to sell.

“If the valuation isn’t met it certainly won’t be allowed to go to the very end because, if we did want to bring someone in, it would be too late.

“So there will be a point – even if the valuation is met – it may just be too late.”

Maguire emerged as Man Utd's top target but attracted interest from elsewhereMan Utd star Harry Maguire has played more minutes than anyone else in 2020
Maguire emerged as Man Utd’s top target but attracted interest from elsewhere

Publicly, former player Wayne Rooney was amongst those to back a move for Maguire.

“I think Harry’s a good player and over the last few years he’s improved as a player,” Rooney said.

“He’s gotten better, and he’s been a main player for Leicester City, but also for England. I think he’d be a good signing if they can get him.”

Gary Neville, however, was more realistic, recognising the magnitude of the task of signing Maguire.

Neville told Sky Sports[4] : ” Manchester United[5] will be in the pit with the rest of the sharks looking for the big signings. It’s difficult for all clubs they all want the same players.

“They all want Harry Maguire, every single club wants him.”

As the summer dragged on, a deal appeared to be getting nowhere.

Leicester City’s ‘cut-off’ came and went, whilst Maguire featured in pre-season action.

There was a brief moment of excitement when he missed training, only for team-mate James Maddison to reveal he had been suffering from illness as he poked fun at the situation on social media.

As the clock ticked away and the deadline closed in, a deal appeared dead in the water.

Yet unlike under Mourinho, United recognised they could not afford to miss out on a centre-back.

The stand-off came to a sudden end when United agreed a £80million fee with Leicester to make him the world’s most expensive centre-back.

After being left out of Leicester’s squad to face Atalanta, he headed to Carrington for a medical and was confirmed as a Manchester United[6] player on August 5.

Harry Maguire's £80m move to Man Utd was the biggest transfer fee ever paid for a centre-back
Harry Maguire’s £80m move to Man Utd was the biggest transfer fee ever paid for a centre-back

Many felt United had overpaid, particularly given the fee exceeded that paid by Liverpool[7] for Virgil van Dijk.

Pep Guardiola claimed Manchester City “couldn’t afford” to match the fee United paid but Solskjaer was adamant Maguire had the qualities to make it worthwhile.

“Harry is one of the best centre-backs in the game today and I am delighted we have secured his signature,” Solskjaer told United’s website when the deal was announced.

“He is a great reader of the game and has a strong presence on the pitch, with the ability to remain calm under pressure – coupled with his composure on the ball and a huge presence in both boxes – I can see he will fit well into this group both on and off the pitch.

”He has a great personality and is a fantastic addition to the club.

“I would like to welcome Harry to Manchester United and we are looking forward to working with him as we prepare for the new season.”

Whilst Maguire still has his critics, he has been imperative in United’s transformation under Solskjaer.

Maguire has led by example and been vital to Man Utd's progress in the last two seasons
Maguire has led by example and been vital to Man Utd’s progress in the last two seasons

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Less than a week after signing, he put in a man of the match performance in a 4-0 win over Chelsea[10].

Since a counter-attacking masterclass that day, United have transformed into a more dominant side with Maguire at the heart of a much-improved defence.

They head to his former club, Leicester City, in the FA Cup quarter-finals desperate to take another step towards adding some silverware to show for their progression.

After taking over the club captaincy from Ashley Young in January 2020, it is clear Maguire is the man tasked with leading United for years to come and ideally lifting plenty of trophies in the process.

The journey started with a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011, and it is now abundantly clear that in the summer of 2019, Manchester United finally found their centre-back.


  1. ^ Leicester (www.mirror.co.uk)
  2. ^ Premier League (www.mirror.co.uk)
  3. ^ Manchester City (www.mirror.co.uk)
  4. ^ Sky Sports (www.skysports.com)
  5. ^ Manchester United (www.mirror.co.uk)
  6. ^ Manchester United (www.mirror.co.uk)
  7. ^ Liverpool (www.mirror.co.uk)
  8. ^ Racing Digest (www.mirror.co.uk)
  9. ^ Sign up for the Racing Digest (www.mirror.co.uk)
  10. ^ Chelsea (www.mirror.co.uk)

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