In the annals of footballers’ misadventures during their summer holidays, Harry Maguire’s entry will have a chapter of its own after a family holiday on the picturesque island of Mykonos quickly turned into a nightmare.
Seeing the captain of Manchester United spend two nights in a Greek police cell before having to attend court was alarming enough, but when the verdict came down that he was guilty of assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery at a trial on Tuesday, before being handed a suspended prison sentence of 21 months and 10 days, it was a jaw-dropping development.
In a summer that was already shortened, this was the last thing that United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed. Or Maguire for that matter. It has thrown their plans into chaos.
On discovering the verdict Maguire immediately signalled his intent to appeal and his claim that “I remain strong and confident regarding our innocence in this matter – if anything myself, family and friends are the victims,” is certainly the words of somebody who feels wronged.
United and their captain will hope the truth emerges at that appeal and if Maguire’s version of events is to be believed – which it evidently wasn’t in court yesterday – then he does appear to be hard done by.
For now, that appeal saves Solskjaer, and United, a difficult decision. Comparisons with the decisive action taken by Gareth Southgate and England are incompatible, given that this Three Lions squad plays twice in the next couple of weeks. United aren’t in action until September 19.
But the withdrawal of Maguire from that squad means he should return to pre-season training next Wednesday at Carrington. Depending on when the appeal is heard there may be decisions to make over whether it’s suitable for the captain to return to training and whether he’s in the right frame of mind to do so.
The outcome of that appeal will have to determine United’s next move. The club issued their own statement on Maguire appealing and the hope for a “full and fair hearing at a later date”, which suggests his version of events is generally believed at Old Trafford.
If the appeal is unsuccessful then it will be decision time for Solskjaer. Given the stock he’s placed in the correct behaviour for United players, could he really keep Maguire on as captain? Even if he was to doubt the validity of the verdict, it’s an almost impossible position to be in, however much he rates the 27-year-old’s leadership. And he rates it highly.
There was disappointment at a social media video Jesse Lingard posted from holiday a year ago, which contained plenty of swearing, yet it pales into insignificance compared to this case.
If Maguire’s appeal is successful, and there is clearly confidence from his legal team that it will be, then United will want to forget about one of the more unexpected pre-season distractions of recent years.
But even if that is the case it’s important lessons are learned from the episode. Maguire put himself in a position where his status as United captain made him vulnerable. It might not be fair, but generally, footballers have to make sacrifices now, and mixing with other fans in drink-fuelled resorts is probably not a sensible move. Footballers might be accused of living in a gilded cage at times, but sometimes it’s safer to be inside those bars than on the outside.
That’s something Solskjaer will be determined to drill into his squad after the events of the past week. The circumstances might be different, but the mind goes back to something Solskjaer said back in November, when the extra-curricular activities of some of his players had clearly irked him.
“Sometimes it seems you’re a footballer, so you can experience so many different things,” the United manager said then.
“It should be quite the contrary – when you’re a footballer you should be proper boring. You go to bed, you rest, you recover and you get ready for the next game. You can do all the other stuff after your career. That’s the culture we need to get to.
“We’re a big club, we’re doing commercial stuff, but in between games, from when you start in July to when you end in the middle of May or whenever, football should be your only thought. Then you have a summer holiday to do the other stuff. That’s the way I was – I was boring. Loads of my teammates were boring but that’s why we became successful.”
To be fair, Solskjaer does mention summer holidays to do “the other stuff”, but he still expects his players to be keeping their heads down when they’re away. Maguire might yet turn out to be innocent if his appeal is successful, but the United manager could still offer a few words of advice after this sorry affair is over.
Mykonos is one of Greece’s hidden gems, an island of postcard beauty and an Instagrammer’s delight, but whenever United or Maguire hear it mentioned now it will bring them out in cold sweats.
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