Manchester United’s unsung hero is still underappreciated

EPL

There were few surprises when Manchester United crowned their Player of the Season on Tuesday afternoon.

Bruno Fernandes took home his second successive Sir Matt Busby award, becoming the first player since Roy Keane at the start of the millennium to achieve such a feat twice in a row.

Luke Shaw, the Players’ Player of the Year, was unfortunate not to take home the top prize, but the stats don’t lie when it comes to the sheer output from Fernandes this season.

28 goals and 17 assists – add another if you count his deft touch for Edinson Cavani on Tuesday night – the Portuguese midfielder is by far and away the biggest match winner in a United shirt.

His coronation as the best player at the club this season was unanimous but once again raised decent debate, particularly when the top five nominees were revealed shortly afterwards.

Fernandes, a huge fan favourite, swept aside the competition by finishing top with 63 per cent of the vote while Shaw finished runner-up with 21 per cent.

On paper it is no real surprise. Those five players have not only enjoyed good campaigns, but they are also five of the most exciting players at the club – and amongst the most popular regardless of their current form.

Yet the voting did amplify one thing. Club captain Harry Maguire very much remains an unsung hero.

“Harry has been very important for us. He has been an ever present pretty much so he is a big miss,” Solskjaer admitted ahead of the draw against Fulham – his absence was once again apparent by full-time.

United haven’t won any of the three Premier League games in which the 28-year-old has been missing through an ankle injury.

The England international will forever be tarnished by his enormous price tag, one which puts him in the same bracket as fellow elite defenders Virgil van Dijk and Ruben Dias.

Sure, he might not be quite of their calibre, but with time ticking down towards deadline day United had little option but to pay £80million if they wanted to sign him from Leicester.

Take away his price tag and Maguire is still one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League, respected by both peers and opponents, even if he isn’t as silky and revered as his counterparts at Man City and Liverpool.

However, the Sheffield-born stopper has once again proven his worth during his absence from the team. United’s often shaky defence has been even more exposed without his presence at the back, while the loss of his organisational skills has also left a leadership void on the pitch in the last three matches.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to Maguire is that when he plays well United tend to play well too, with his solid performances as an anchor at the back often the perfect counterweight for the attacking excellence at the other end of the pitch.

He’s also done this with frequently changing partners at centre-back, none of which have ever convinced as his long-term companion in the defensive line.

Yet his true value is appreciated by those who see him every day. Maguire treats every training session as if it is a match and is always on hand to help with off-field issues, not only fronting the brunt of media duties, but also offering advice and support to any teammate who should need it.

Young defender Brandon Williams named Maguire along with Shaw and Rashford as his three top picks for the Player of the Year award insisting the accolade should be ‘for training as well all season and not just on the pitch’.

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