To ward off the monotony that can build between games during the long weeks away at a major tournament, England’s players have been passing the time by trying their hand at Werewolf.
A murder strategy game based on lies and deception, those chosen as “wolves” have to kill off as many “villagers” as possible while the villagers have to detect and identify the wolves. One member of the squad has stood head and shoulders above the rest, revealing himself as something of a super sleuth. “I’m quite good at psychology, to be honest,” admits Harry Maguire. “I’ve needed to be over the last year or so.”
While Maguire puts his Werewolf prowess partly down to an analytical mind, it is mostly due to past experience. “I’ve played it before as well, I must say. When I was at Leicester, we played the game a lot and the more you play the game the more you see. You get to look at what people are doing, how they’re acting.”
And the England defender has found those to be transferable skills, if not on the pitch then certainly off it. “I think especially being in my position, it’s really important to know who you can trust,” he says. “You build relationships over your career and I feel I know now who I can speak to, who I can trust. I’ve a lot of people I can trust, that’s for sure.”
The past year has been the most challenging of Maguire’s career, a time when he has had to keep his friends, teammates and those who believe in his ability close. He arrived in Qatar as the captain of Manchester United but not a regular starter, his struggles for form having finally cost him his place at club level. Many questioned whether he should be included in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad, let alone keep his spot at the heart of England’s defence.
The criticism has been furious at times, coming from all sides, some more unusual than others. His defending was even mocked in the Ghanaian parliament last week when one member accused the vice-president of being an “economic Maguire” scoring “own goals” against the country. Maguire has learned to cut out that noise and, instead, focus only on the opinions of those around him.
“First and foremost, I listen to people like my family and friends,” he says. “My teammates, the staff here. I know how valued they see me and I feel it within the camp and squad, how much value my teammates and staff believe I bring to the team. That gives me great belief and confidence.”
Maguire attempts not to read social media and tells his family to stay off it too but, inevitably, “bits and bobs” creep through. It is then that he steps back and remembers how far he has come. “I’m 29 years old, the captain of Manchester United and have made 52 appearances for my country. When I look back on my career and put everything into perspective, if I was a young boy, then I’m living the dream. I’m doing everything I always wanted to do.”
There is the admission that his form over the past year has not been his best, though his struggles have to be placed in their proper context. “I think during a career there’s only probably Lionel Messi and Cristiano [Ronaldo] who are the only two who’ve not had a dip in their careers. It’s a 15-year career if you’re lucky. There’s no way really, especially with all the scrutiny that’s on defences these days, you’re not going to have dips.”
In any case, Maguire’s recent performances suggest he is on an upward trajectory again. Despite his lack of minutes at United, his form in the first four games of his World Cup has been exemplary, repaying Southgate’s steadfast faith in his abilities.
“I draw back to past experiences. I went into the Euros on the back of an eight-week injury, no minutes at all.” Maguire was named in the team of the tournament that summer. “I don’t think I’ve proved a point,” he adds. “I know what I’m capable of. I’ve not hidden away from the last year. It’s been difficult, but I always knew and had great belief in myself that I’d find my form and regain my confidence and my focus. I’m really happy it’s happened at the biggest stage, at the biggest tournament.”
It was Maguire’s performances at the last World Cup in Russia four years ago that made him a household name. Having watched England’s abject Euro 2016 campaign as a fan in the stands, he quickly established himself as a leading light of the Southgate era. It was all new to this squad back then, and the run to the semi-final was a welcome surprise but Maguire can sense that things have changed since.
“I think that’s the one thing I’d say that’s a lot different from the 2018 squad to this squad. I think we really believe that it is possible,” he says. “I played in 2018 and we got to the semi-final and I think a lot of the lads were happy. You were happy to be part of the semi-final. You know that whatever happened in that semi-final that you’d go home and be classed as a hero when you get home, you’d get a good reception and everyone would be patting you on the back. I think now there’s a belief that we’ve got to win this tournament.”
That belief is coursing through Maguire again when he plays for England and it has not gone unnoticed back in Manchester. The United captain reveals that Erik ten Hag and others have been in contact, complimenting him on his displays in Qatar via text message. In less than a fortnight’s time, all this will be over, there will be no more games of Werewolf, and the fight to win his place back will begin in earnest. Until then, there is a World Cup to win.
“In 2018, we probably weren’t one of those teams that had that belief,” he admits. “Now there’s five or six who have that belief and we’re one of them.”