It would be entirely wrong of me to pretend I have never engaged in a little light mocking of footballers. I have in the past, I do in the present and I certainly will in the future.
When you see a millionaire, elite sportsman making a fool of himself in front of tens of thousands of people and the watching television world, it’s almost impossible not to point and snigger a little.
However, there comes a point where the piss taking becomes not only tedious and tiring, but morally wrong. A point when, the more you hear people making fun of a player, the more you find yourself compelled to stick up for him.
And I think we have definitely reached that stage with Harry Maguire.
For months now my social feeds have been flooded with video after video of Harry getting himself all befuddled, heading clearances into the back of his own net and basically not doing much of what he is paid to do – namely defending.
And, to be fair, there is no shortage of that type of footage.
But enough is enough now. This repeated kicking of someone when he is down is no longer big or clever.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the lad himself can’t seem to get a break from his own brand of self-inflicted chaos. Maguire’s anti-Midas touch was in evidence again earlier this week when he came on as a second-half substitute for England in their match up in Scotland.
It didn’t take long before the Manchester United man was steering the ball into the back of his own goal, prompting more merriment among the home fans who had been passionately teasing him since he had made his entrance.
Interestingly, despite his latest howler, Harry wasn’t on the receiving end of much nastiness from the England fans. They now – finally – seem to have decided that the joke has worn thin and he needs support, not criticism.
And, assuming they have a shred of decency in their bones, that isn’t surprising.
To his credit, Harry laughed off the latest wave of mockery as just a bit of banter with the Scotland fans. Which is probably a fair way of looking at it given the intense rivalry between the two countries.
The problem is when the gentle ribbing turns into actual abuse, which is what has been happening over the last few months, with much of it coming from his ‘own’ fans, supporters of both Manchester United and England.
And that is way out of order.
So bad has it been that Harry’s mother felt compelled to stick up for her lad this week, which is not something I think I have ever seen before in the world of top-level football.
“As a mum, seeing the level of negative and abusive comments which my son is receiving from some fans, pundits and the media is disgraceful and totally unacceptable to any walk of life, never mind someone who works his socks off for club and country.
“For me seeing him go through what he’s going through is not ok. I would hate to have to see any other parents or players go through this in the future, especially the young boys and girls breaking through the ranks today.
“Harry has a massive heart and it’s a good job he’s mentally strong and can handle it as others may not be able to. I wish this sort of abuse on nobody.”
Well said Harry’s mum.
All players have to be able to take a little bit of finger pointing and smirking when they make a mistake. It’s part and parcel of the job.
But what has been thrown at Harry goes way beyond.
Let’s be honest, he may have his dodgy moments and he may well be suffering an immense crisis of confidence. But he obviously brings something to the table for so many managers to have given him so much game time over the years.
"Deciding to stay at a club where he clearly isn’t wanted was never going to help his cause, confidence or form. But that ship has sailed and it won’t be back again until January at the earliest"
A few weeks ago, I said he needed to get out of Old Trafford and I stand by that. Maguire needs some time out of the spotlight to reinvent himself and regain something like the form that once made him first choice for United and England.
Deciding to stay at a club where he clearly isn’t wanted was never going to help his cause, confidence or form. But that ship has sailed and it won’t be back again until January at the earliest.
So, with that in mind, it’s time for everyone to cut him the slack he deserves, skip past those cleverly compiled disaster videos and shout down those that decide to go beyond light-hearted mockery and get nasty and hurtful.
Older readers will remember that I used to enjoy taking the mickey out of Andy Cole. But I always made sure it was tongue-in-cheek as opposed to offensive and degrading. There is no need to sink to that level, nor is there any excuse for doing so.
To this day Andy remains the only player I have ever seen tackle himself. And that still makes me smile when I think about it. But he was also a player who scored hundreds of goals at the highest level of the game. So any mocking could only ever have been for fun.
And the same, ultimately, goes for Harry. Yes, he is having a very bad spell and just about everything that can go wrong is doing so. But he has played more than 450 games for club and country. And you can’t tell me a bad player gets those sort of appearance records.
Will he ever get back to his best? I seriously doubt it. He’s 30 and should be peaking now, not fighting to win a first-team place.
But none of that really matters. What does is that the lad is down and collectively we need to start picking him up.