My thoughts and feelings on Harry Maguire are a bit all over the place, which is probably the only appropriate way to reflect on his Manchester United career.

As he relinquishes the club captaincy, it seems odd to only now be discussing its seemingly imminent conclusion with any certainty. It has felt over for a long time. Much was uncertain before the arrival of Erik ten Hag to Old Trafford last summer, but the one thing everybody seemed to agree upon was that Maguire was not going to be the man to marshal his backline.

The months-long pursuit and acquisition of Lisandro Martinez was easy confirmation and a strong signal to all concerned that Maguire’s largely ill-fated spell at United was winding towards a conclusion. Except the player himself, still in possession of the captain’s armband, just didn’t see it that way.

Google ‘Harry Maguire fighting for his place’ and you’ll find a trail of articles stretching back at least an entire year with either anonymous briefings to that effect or the former Leicester City defender outright declaring it. Genuinely admirable persistence, yes, but it just seems like no one other than Maguire ever really believed it to be a realistic prospect.

The England international is clearly a heart-on-his-sleeve personality who doesn’t believe in throwing in the towel, otherwise he’d already be 12 months into a pundit-backed career renaissance at West Ham, sticking his purpose-built forehead on everything in sight. You know the narrative – the one that would put Raphael Varane in the precarious position of forever being a minor error away from a savaging in the dark depths of Richard Keys’ blog, sparks flying and smoke billowing from the exiled Sky Sports host’s keyboard as he slates Ten Hag for choosing his four-time Champions League winner over a good, old fashioned English centre-half.

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There’s plenty of time yet for that to materialise, but it would require the 30-year-old to finally accept that his future, and United’s, is best served if he goes elsewhere.

Maguire has been far from the only serial underperformer during United’s doldrum days, but few have been placed under as much scrutiny. His nationality, the captaincy, and an £80million fee making him the world’s most expensive defender dictated the heat was on from the outset, and only intensified as it became apparent his skillset was not particularly well-adjusted to the step up in demand from Leicester to Manchester.

It did not help that he was playing in a completely malfunctioning team within a completely malfunctioning club. His continually better performances for England suggested there was a top player in there somewhere, and may well have been the primary source of Maguire’s steadfast belief that he could still be a key player for United, even when he slipped to fourth-choice centre-back in the months following Ten Hag’s arrival.

But in United colours, he seems to have carried the weight of the world on his shoulders from day one. A consistently clouded mind leads to otherwise inexplicable errors, which only further impairs judgment, saps already brittle confidence, and before you know it there’s an inescapable vicious cycle playing out very publicly, week after week. It genuinely became a little hard to watch, there being a little too much revelling in his career taking a sharp nosedive.

Granted, Maguire hasn’t always helped himself with some ill-advised defiance that basically amounted to ‘I’ve actually been very good and everyone else is wrong’, nor with an ear-cupping celebration after scoring against the might of Albania, one widely interpreted – despite his denials – as being directed at his many critics, and an absolute gimme of a Family Fortunes answer if the survey was ‘things that would raise Roy Keane’s blood pressure’.

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Predictably, Keane was afterward so disgusted by it that he managed to use the words ‘embarrassing’, ‘disgrace’, and ‘embarrassing’ again in the space of just four seconds, but deep down you feel he must begrudge Maguire a degree of respect for refusing to shy away from adversity. Perhaps cruelly, though, those ‘honest pro’ principles he so earnestly clings to have likely made matters more difficult for him in the long run.

In the bloody aftermath of United’s latest ignominy, it became almost ritualistic for Maguire to be offered up for some fronting up before the TV cameras, getting so much practice with that ‘hands on hips while staring disbelievingly at the floor between sentences’ routine it became near-flawless. Maguire will have known this would only contribute to his status as the face of United’s eternal woes, but to his credit he continued doing it anyway while others ducked for cover behind him. It happened so often you began to wonder if his teammates had lost their powers of speech, or whether they were simply content to allow an already beleaguered colleague to double up as a punching bag.

And no amount of poor performances can justify the utterly disgraceful incident in February 2022, when Maguire and his family were forced to leave their home for several days after he received a bomb threat through the post. It was a dark episode, the culmination of all the intense scrutiny and social media frenzies manifesting in a thoroughly ugly fashion.

Few would have criticised the man if he’d left Manchester for good at the earliest opportunity after that, but he has elected to stay on and graft away, likely to the detriment of his own future career prospects. Admirable, needlessly self-torturous, or both? You decide.

Either way, the removal of the armband appears to have been a tipping point for Maguire. He released a magnanimous public statement vowing he would continue to ‘give his all’ at the same time several anonymous sources informed national newspapers of his ‘shock’, his ‘anger’ and that he would now ‘consider his options’. It felt like a concerted PR strategy to paint Maguire as being in control of the situation when the reality is he simply finds himself under a manager who has no plans for his future involvement, as countless others have done in the past.

Ten Hag’s ruthless streak has already been well demonstrated in how he dispensed with an impetuous Cristiano Ronaldo and later dropped Marcus Rashford for arriving late to a team meeting, despite the striker being in the form of his life. Given how Maguire plays and has conducted himself, it seems obvious he would not want to be seen as giving in, but he has nothing to gain from refusing to swallow his pride, and hasn’t done for quite some time.

His four years at United have been unsuccessful ones, but that doesn’t mean the remainder of his career has to follow the same path. The only way to alter its course, however, is to finally say goodbye to Old Trafford.