Two years ago, when acquainting Daily Mail readers with a reticent young Yorkshireman who had risen from football’s backwaters to win a place in the nation’s hearts with his World Cup performances, I wrote the following words: ‘He is possibly one of the most unaffected, humble, grounded blokes ever to pull on a Three Lions jersey.’
It was a summation gleaned from comments of those who knew Harry Maguire long before he began earning £190,000-a-week as the captain of Manchester United: A former teacher, his youth team coach and neighbours who knew him in Sheffield.
They depicted a fellow who remained so down-to-earth that he still paid for his own ticket when watching Sheffield United, the team he has supported since boyhood. Whose no-nonsense mother insisted he did the dishes when he popped round for his tea. Who turned up for his first England training session with his muddy boots in a black bin-bag.
England’s new hero may have belatedly started to enjoy the trappings of a Premier League player’s lifestyle – driving a nice car, buying a big house, holidaying exotically with his fiancée Fern Hawkins – but he was anything but a Flash Harry, it was then my pleasure to report. Last night, after a prosecutor outlined the details of 27-year-old Maguire’s allegedly squalid and shameful behaviour on a boozy evening in Mykonos, I wondered how this 6ft 4in colossus could have fallen so low.
Yes, the footballer insists that he, his family and their friends are the real victims of this modern-day Greek tragedy. And yes, he will appeal against the court’s decision, doubtless availing himself of the most expensive lawyers his £10million-a-year salary can buy.
Yet the fact that he placed himself in a position where his reputation, and that of the Manchester United and England teams, could be compromised makes him a darned fool, at the very least.
It is said that he and his party caroused on a five-hour drinking bender before his arrest, quaffing vintage champagne like lemonade, gorging themselves on steak and lobster (rounded off with a greasy £4.50 doner kebab, perhaps to remind him of his working-class roots).
Whether he really regaled Greek police with that oldest of clichés – ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ – Maguire was evidently milking his wealth for all it was worth in that ‘exclusive’ nightclub, Bonbonniere.
That, alone, was surely reason enough for England manager Gareth Southgate to drop him last night from forthcoming matches against Denmark and Iceland.
We might also wonder at the moral compass of Manchester United, who last night issued a statement making it clear they are standing by their skipper, a statement that did not include one word of chastisement.
But when you have paid a world-record £80million for a defensive player, there may be a natural inclination to put morality aside and protect your investment.
Whatever one’s view, Maguire is the last person we would expect to find in this position. So how has it happened?
The son of a hairdresser and a Co-op Insurance man-turned-financial adviser, he is certainly no fool.
Maguire passed eight GCSEs, including four As, and staff at the Roman Catholic high school he attended say he could have gone to university had he not made the grade as a footballer. His best subject was maths.
Indeed, he returns to the school to coach football, raise money for charity and give motivational talks, and he is regarded as such a great role model that his photograph adorns the corridor walls. Will it now be torn down?
As he struggled up the footballing ladder he gained the reputation of a quiet but dependable leader.
‘Someone you’d want with you in the trenches,’ was how one former colleague described him to me.
Others used adjectives such as solid, unflappable and imposing – reasons, we must suppose, why United chose him to follow in the footsteps of the ultimate gentleman footballer, Bobby Charlton.
In a rare personal interview, Maguire described himself in similar terms. ‘I try to keep my feet on the floor, stay humble, and let my ability do the talking.’
Has he lost that humility? Has his head been turned by the glamour of leading the world’s most famous club – a lifestyle he can never have imagined when he was plying his trade in the lower divisions?
Sadly, court documents seem to suggest this may be the truth. But we must hope, for the sake of all those children who dream of emulating him, that football’s Mr Ordinary hasn’t turned into a rather unpleasant Flash Harry after all.