Gareth Southgate says he has never seen a player treated like Harry Maguire as the furious England manager labelled the unrelenting criticism of him “ridiculous” and “a joke”.
Little more than two years on from being named in the European Championship team of the tournament, the 30-year-old is now the butt of jokes to many.
Maguire’s struggle for form and game-time at Manchester United have increased the spotlight on a player that has remained an integral part of Southgate’s England squad.
The centre-back made his first start of the season in Saturday’s 1-1 Euro 2024 qualifying draw against Ukraine and was mocked mercilessly when brought on at half-time against Scotland three days later.
Maguire went on to score an unfortunate own goal but enjoyed the last laugh at Hampden Park as the Auld Enemy ran out 3-1 victors – something the travelling hordes were quick to celebrate with the under-fire defender.
“From a Scotland fan’s point of view, I get it and I have absolutely no complaints with what they did,” the England boss said.
“It is a consequence of ridiculous treatment of him for a long period of time, frankly.
“I think our fans recognised ‘OK, there might be a bit of heat from our own supporters but we’re not going to have it from others getting into him’.
“But it’s a joke. I’ve never known a player treated the way he is – not by the Scottish fans, by our own commentators, pundits, whatever it is.
“They’ve created something that’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
“He’s been an absolute stalwart for us in the second most successful England team for decades. He’s been an absolutely key part of that.
“I’ve talked about the importance of our senior players. He’s been crucial amongst that.
“Every time he goes on the field, the resilience he shows, the balls he shows is absolutely incredible.
“He’s a top player and we’re all with him and our fans were brilliant with him tonight.”
England fans chanted his name throughout the second half, including bellowing out ‘Harry Maguire, he’s winning 3-1’ after Harry Kane added to Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham’s first half goals.
Asked how he is after the so-called friendly, Southgate said of Maguire: “He’s good, he’s great. We’ve had a good win, he’s been a big part of that.
Gareth Southgate looks back on tonight’s 3-1 victory over Scotland 🗣️
— England (@England) September 12, 2023
“He’s gone and spoken with the media because that’s the sort of lad he is.
“He’s fronted up as he always does, so again enormous credit to his character.”
Southgate said the own goal was “just unfortunate” on a night when Bellingham shone and England produced an impressive performance.
“Really pleased with the performance,” Southgate said after the 116th meeting of international football’s oldest foes.
“We wanted to give a performance that was controlled with the ball.
“We knew that would be the best way of trying to quieten the crowd, which was a fantastic atmosphere.
“I thought we showed great composure, we had good control of possession deeper and we had a real threat with our runs in behind and our forward running and forward passing.
“The team worked incredibly hard without the ball because Scotland’s system can cause you a lot of problems.
“So, I was so happy with all of the starting XI, all of the subs.
“They’ve done a fantastic job and in the end, a really strong performance with an excellent result.”
On Bellingham, the England boss added: “We want all our players to have that freedom and, contrary to what people seem to think most of the time, I think they do have that.
“Tonight, different system they were playing against, different areas where the spaces were open.
“What was key for Jude, the timing of his forward runs. You know, he’s got that ability to slip through challenges and he’s just a brilliant competitor.
“He’s not concerned about the environment.”