MICAH RICHARDS: Maguire should hand the armband to Ronaldo for now

MICAH RICHARDS: Harry Maguire should hand the captain’s armband to Cristiano Ronaldo for now… the added venom in his treatment by fans has been shocking and he needs support to return to being an outstanding defender at Man United

  • Out-of-form Harry Maguire is carrying a heavy burden and could do with a break
  • Some fans inside Old Trafford cheered as he was substituted on Tuesday night
  • The added venom in his treatment by supporters is shocking and crosses the line
  • Cristiano Ronaldo has the big personality to deal with it when things go wrong

Harry Maguire needs help in his role as Manchester United captain. This may sound like I’m joining the flood of criticism, but that is absolutely not the case.

Questioning whether the armband could, in the short term, be passed to Cristiano Ronaldo is no reflection on Harry’s ability or character.

I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He’s an outstanding England international, who will play many games at the highest level for years to come. Gareth Southgate made that point on Thursday when he named him in his latest squad.

Out-of-form Harry Maguire could do with a break from his role as Manchester United captain

Certainly, Harry is going through a difficult period of form. There is nothing wrong with casting a critical eye towards a player when they aren’t reaching the levels you expect and I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I suggested that all was currently well with his game.

It’s not my role to defend people, but the reason I feel so passionately about why the captaincy should be moved on to Ronaldo — for the time being — is based on everything Harry is experiencing on a personal level.

The situation, in my eyes, came to a head on Tuesday against Atletico Madrid. I was in the studio, working for CBS, and when I heard some fans inside Old Trafford cheering as Harry was brought off, my heart sank. I’ve been in that position — some Aston Villa fans booed my name when it was read out at Villa Park once — and the feeling is like no other.

Manchester United fans, the hardcore who stick with their team through thick and thin, would not have cheered. Real fans don’t cheer when one of their own is having a bad time; they remain loyal and offer encouragement. The Manchester United fans I know embody those qualities.

 Passing on the armband to Cristiano Ronaldo is no reflection on Maguire’s ability or character

We are now in an era, though, where a section of supporters are seemingly going to matches for the experience of the day rather than to fully support their team.

Maybe it makes them feel good when they turn on someone; maybe they look forward to getting their target’s name trending online.

What shocks me about the treatment Harry is receiving is that it feels like there is added venom behind it all — critics are saying the likes of ‘he should never wear the shirt again’ and they call him ‘slabhead’ and other things, plenty of which is unprintable. It’s disgraceful, it crosses the line.

In his position, the criticism on social media can reach insane levels — as captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world, 10,000 tweets can rapidly turn into 100,000 and be doubled again in the blink of an eye. It quickly becomes personal.

Some fans inside Old Trafford cheered as the defender was substituted on Tuesday night

The captain, for these people, basically becomes the scapegoat. I’m pretty sure if Liverpool were in United’s position — not competing for trophies and labouring in the Premier League — Jordan Henderson would be in a similar position. It’s all down to the magnitude of the club. I’m sure some will say ‘he should stay off social media’ but it’s not realistic in this day and age. There are too many platforms and too many of your family and friends who can’t help but see it.

It’s an extension of what I was doing 15 years ago. Back then, I couldn’t help but look at my marks out of 10 each week in the Manchester Evening News or on their website. The first couple of seasons were great, when I was getting sevens and eights and occasionally a nine, but then my form dipped and the numbers drop: sixes and fives, on bad days maybe even a four.

The comments section on the website would drive me up the wall — ‘Micah’s always out of position’ or ‘Micah switched off again’ — and I quickly went from being linked in the transfer columns to Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea to, with the greatest respect, Bolton and Wigan.

Harry will be aware of what is being said. He’s human, he’s got emotions and what I saw when he came off four days ago was a man carrying a heavy burden. I can only begin to imagine how challenging the last few days have been.

Treatment he is receiving is shocking and feels like there is added venom behind it all

When Ronaldo returned last summer, the one question everyone asked was: ‘Is he going to be captain?’ Hindsight suggests United should have headed it all off and given him the responsibility because, if things aren’t going right, he knows how to deal with it with his big personality.

More often than not — and his stunning hat-trick against Tottenham last week was the latest evidence — Ronaldo has been the man to step forward; he’s built differently to everyone else in that squad. It’s not a criticism of them, it’s a reference to the fact Ronaldo is one of a kind.

Let me say it again: I’m not calling for Harry to be stripped of the role completely. Perhaps he could do with having the weight off his shoulders for the rest of this campaign. He hasn’t stepped out of line, he shouldn’t be punished. But perspective needs applying to what he is experiencing and the impact it is having on his form.

For the moment, a break from the responsibility would do him good. He needs support to return to being the outstanding defender we know and expect him to be again.

Micah’s man of the week  

Liverpool fans will have been delighted at how the Champions League draw panned out but let me provide a word of warning. 

Darwin Nunez has caught my eye all year and he came up trumps for Benfica once again, to send them into the last eight.

Nunez scored his 26th goal of the season and is only 22. He is tall, strong, he runs in behind and knows how to finish. 

Darwin Nunez came up trumps for Benfica again, to send them into the last eight

He’s scored against Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Ajax so far — don’t discount him doing the same against Liverpool.

I’m hooked on Formula One!  

I couldn’t write this week without looking at the return of Formula One.

I’ve just watched the latest episode of Drive to Survive and I’m so hooked on the drama of it now that I’d say I love it as much as football. 

Last year’s battle between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has had a huge reach.

Last year’s battle between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has had a huge reach

If I was to make a prediction for the season ahead, I would say George Russell is going to have a big role to play in things.

Sergio Perez did an amazing job for Verstappen last season and if Hamilton is to reclaim his title, Russell is going to need to be just as slick.

Savour the drama of epic tussle 

The FA Cup provides a break from the title race this weekend but, really, I can’t stop thinking about the epic tussle that is developing between Manchester City and Liverpool. The two teams are moving with the speed and power of express trains and they both seem unstoppable.

It’s been a significant week, with City dropping two points at Crystal Palace and Liverpool clawing back the deficit, but making a firm call about who wins at this stage is too hard. 

I still slightly favour City, but it is only because they will have home advantage when the two teams meet in April.

Dramatic Premier League title tussle is developing between Manchester City and Liverpool

If that match was being played at Anfield, I’d be leaning in Liverpool’s direction. Either way, the drama is incredible. Savour every minute.

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