The star of England’s World Cup campaign was Leicester City’s Harry Maguire.
A working mans hero who’s unassuming career took him from Sheffield to Hull, Leicester via Wigan. When you listen to him speak, he has no airs and graces about him. He was never destined to be the next big thing, never hyped up as a teenager.
And that comes across on the field as well.
He works hard, defends well, is not bothered about how he looks or how he plays, just that he plays well. That he wins the ball, clears the ball.
Whilst in England there has been a tendency to pine after a Rio Ferdinand type defender, someone who can bring the ball out of play, Maguire showed the importance of “defending first”.
John Stones is the player who was hyped up as a teenager, got his big money move to Manchester City, and has struggled since.
He is a defender who looks comfortable on the ball, and is certainly style over substance. The paid actually gel well for England.
What Maguire shows, and gives hope to others for, is that you do not need to quick, graceful and flashy when playing centre half. You just need to win the ball, and pass it on to someone else to be the creator. It is a simple but effective way of playing. Straight out of the school of Tony Adams and George Graham.
Rob Holding is this sort of centre back.
He is not quick, he is not graceful, he is not completely comfortable on the ball. But this does not mean he is not a good player.
Holding is strong, aggressive, good in the air. And still just 23-years old.
Arsenal have seen this year in Sokratis about how important it is for a defend to be able to defend first.
For years we have wanted defenders who can supposedly play. The likes of Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers. But these players are flawed defensively.
In Sokratis and Holding we have two men who know what it means to defend.
Holding should be looking at Sokratis, looking Maguire. About how to keep it simple and effective. How you can become a top defender by defending.
He has now played 5 of the last 6 games for Arsenal, and there is an argument to be made, based on current form, that is should be Holding plus either Mustafi or Sokratis moving forward. Preferably the Greek man.
With Gareth Southgate seemingly speaking experimental England squads – the likes of Marcus Bettinelli, Lewis Dunk, Nathaniel Chalobah, Harry Winks, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho have been called up for the latest round of games – Holding must not be too far down the pecking order. As long as he continues getting game time and his current form.
Holding, like Maguire, is a simple player. But it is sticking to the simplicity that will make him a top player.