A World Cup summer can always exaggerate the highs and lows of following an international football team, but that seemed especially true of Gareth Southgate’s England in 2018.
However, for all the extremes of the semi-final defeat and second round penalty shootout triumph, the game in between acted as the calm in between two storms.
The extreme heat which swept England throughout June and July gave the occasional impression of leaving an entire population on the beach, and that feeling was only confirmed when Harry Maguire rose to head home a corner in the quarter-final victory over Sweden.
It was a goal so inevitable, so certain, that it could be greeted with a smile, a knowing nod, and a return to your poolside mai-tai.
As Ashley Young sends in a corner from the left, we simply wait for the inevitable. The win over Colombia has gifted us 90 minutes of invincibility, as if there was an arrow pointing goalward which only Maguire could see.
At that point it was inevitable – before he built up a head of steam, before he bustled past Emil Forsberg like a runaway train breaking off its tracks, and before he powered a header into the bottom corner of Robin Olsen’s net to give England the lead.
The celebration was at once pure England and pure Maguire, the largest head on the Samara pitch still straining to contain that much face.
It was as if the centre-back was designed in a lab to create the maximum surface area for unbridled joy, and that still wasn’t enough.
The World Cup reinforced Maguire as someone who it was impossible to dislike, down to his encapsulation of how every England fan felt watching him and his team-mates in action.
His summer persona was Charlie Bucket opening his chocolate bar to reveal a golden ticket, all filmed in slow-motion to drag the experience out over a number of weeks.
This is how we ended up with a petition for Maguire on a unicorn to be featured on the new £50 note, and how a photo of the Leicester player became a meme shared by everyone from your man on the street to his international team-mate Kyle Walker.
He became an everyman in the way a player from one of the Premier League’s bigger clubs could not – free from the tribalism and rivalries which come with playing for a Manchester United, a Liverpool or an Arsenal – and yet there was a feeling he was likeable enough to have been capable of rising above that sort of thing even if he was at one of the clubs in question.
Yeah so a good header doesn’t hurt. I mean the moment you head it proper, you feel it’s a good one. Know what I mean love? pic.twitter.com/a5b8UqDjv2
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) July 7, 2018
From Toto Schillaci to Asamoah Gyan and Angelos Charisteas to Karel Poborsky, there will always be certain players forever tied to a single tournament.
They don’t need to go all the way – indeed, often they don’t – but they need to encapsulate the joy of those four weeks, when people are willing to convince themselves nothing else matters outside that bubble.
Maguire has achieved something truly special, though – he’s kept that goodwill alive by simply continuing to do the same thing since returning from Russia.
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