Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag tells Harry Maguire that captaincy is no guarantee of starting

·4 min read

Erik ten Hag has told Harry Maguire that his status as Manchester United captain offers no guarantee of starting every week, while hailing Raphael Varane’s “immense” stature as a player.

Varane impressed at the heart of United’s defence after replacing Maguire in the starting line-up for Monday’s win over historic rivals Liverpool, which earned United’s first points of the new Premier League season and Ten Hag’s first win in the job.

Maguire ended the night as an unused substitute and potentially faces a challenge to win back his place as one half of Ten Hag’s first-choice centre-back pairing, with new signing Lisandro Martinez also winning plaudits for his performance alongside Varane.

When asked to explain his decision to select Varane over his captain, Ten Hag said: “We have options. And you have already said, Varane, his stature is immense.

“In pre-season we took a decision to build him physically, so he had a bit of a slow start. He was fit in the first games but in the first period of pre-season he wasn’t always, so we are happy we built him in that way.

“You see when the team needed him he was really there. His profile, his stature and what he won already in the past shows he can really contribute to his team. For the team there is competition and we need that, we have to cover so many games.

“We can do that in several constructions and we can see from game to game what we need - what can be the construction for Liverpool, but also in the second half in Brentford we played with Varane and Maguire in the centre, so there are many options.

“I forget about injuries: Victor Lindelof did really well in pre-season so I am happy that he will be back in the squad, so we will have another option. We have competition internally and that’s good and that is what top teams need.”

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire faces a battle to start regularly under Erik ten Hag (AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire faces a battle to start regularly under Erik ten Hag (AFP via Getty Images)

During United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia, Ten Hag confirmed that Maguire would continue as club captain and went on to suggest that he would be considered one of his first-choice centre-halves as a result.

The United manager seemed to row back on that before Saturday’s Premier League trip to Southampton, however.

When it was suggested that dropping Maguire would spark debate, Ten Hag said: “Yes, but I think that doesn’t mean when you are captain you are established to play always, especially when you also have Varane in your squad.”

Varane was joined at United this week by former Real Madrid team-mate Casemiro, who has taken part in training since confirming his £60m move and could make his debut from the start at St Mary’s in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.

United’s move for Casemiro came relatively late in the window, long after talks for priority transfer target Frenkie de Jong were initiated, but Ten Hag said that the 30-year-old holding midfielder was always a target.

“We have a list. We have options. He was always on it but we didn’t know he would become available. In the moment that we got signals, we got proactive and we got it done and we are really happy about that.

“He is the cement between the stones, he can lead other players really well because he is a leader, he is a very good strategist and he can play a ball as well and he wins challenges, so he brings a lot into a game and he will help us.

“In between he will be the link, a really important role and I am really happy to have that role occupied in the squad.”

Ten Hag had prioritised a holding midfield player this summer, repeatedly stressing the importance to fill what he perceived as a gap in the squad. The United manager now believes he has enough options in midfield, albeit while admitting there is room for improvement.

“We have many options now with Fred and Scott [McTominay]. We have Casemiro, Christian [Eriksen], Bruno [Fernandes], Donny [van de Beek], so we have now options there how we can balance the midfield yeah

“We are not the world top but the intention always has to be for Man United to look for better. So good is not good enough, always go for better.

“That has to be the culture on the pitch and that is what the demand is on the players but also in every department on the club. It has to be the standard, it’s the demand and we have to go that way.”