As soon as France lifted the World Cup to the sky, silly season went into overdrive.
Some of the brightest sparks in Russia have been linked to big moves and in a series of daily features, we reflect on their time at the tournament – and which teams should be poking around for their services.
WORLD CUP OVERVIEW
Before a ball was kicked in anger by an England player at the World Cup, everyone knew that if the Three Lions had any chance of roaring, Harry would have to be their hero.
He was. However, no-one envisaged Harry Maguire would come back from the tournament with reputation more enhanced than Harry Kane – especially as the Tottenham striker claimed only a second-ever Golden Boot for England and the first since Gary Linker 32 years ago at Mexico ’86.
Yet, Maguire was magnificent. A tank at the back while also proving he can make a massive impact at the other end of the pitch, with his giant 6ft 4in frame often causing havoc as England dominated set-pieces.
He scored the crucial opener in the 2-0 quarter-final victory over Sweden and was generally a commanding presence either with the ball in the air or, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, at his feet.
This from a player who only made his international debut in England’s final World Cup qualifier against Lithuania last October. His World Cup exploits proved the 25-year-old must be the bedrock of England’s defence moving forward.
RATINGS FROM THE ARCHIVE
England 2 Tunisia 1
7 – Emerged from some dicey moments at the back. Charged up field with confidence and used his presence to help set up Kane’s late winner.
England 6 Panama 1
7 – The towering Leicester City defender caused utter chaos in the Panama penalty box for every set-piece. Defending didn’t come under microscope.
England 0 Belgium 1
7 – Came on at the interval. Held his position and line effectively. Managed to showcase his raking switches at ease. Powered up the pitch with a grace that belies his big frame. Isolated when Danny Rose bombed forward.
Round of 16
England 1 Colombia 1 (England win 3-2 on penalties)
7 – Wherever the ball was, his head swiftly followed – except at the very last up against a leaping Yerry Mina.
England 2 Sweden 0
9 – The Leicester City man was a tank in defence, holding off all Sweden’s attackers whenever he was challenged. His movement to get in prime position for his goal was superb.
England 1 Croatia 2
6 – Can count himself very lucky that neither VAR or the on-field officials punished his first-half injury-time tug on Dejan Lovren.
England 0 Belgium 2
5 – Dominant in the air but had few options to work with every time he brought the ball out from defence.
WORLD CUP STATS
What a monumental 12 months it’s been for Maguire. Voted as Hull’s Player of the Year in a disappointing 2016/17 season that ended in relegation from the Premier League, he was rescued from dropping into obscurity last summer by Leicester City.
He played in every minute of the 2017/18 campaign as the Foxes finished a respectable ninth and again ended it with individual glory as he was awarded Leicester’s Player of the Season, as well as Players’ Player at the King Power Stadium club’s end of season awards.
Only Wilfred Ndidi won more aerial duels on average than Maguire’s 3.1 per game but no-one made more clearances (4.6), while he was impressively third for assists (4) behind Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez.
Tough yet talented – A glance at Maguire’s CV and where he comes from tells you much of what you need to know about the type of player he is. The 25-year-old came through the ranks at hometown club Sheffield United and then Barnsley, so you know he’s developed a hardened, physical style.
He has the look of an old school brute of a centre-back, big and burly and not the quickest. But while he is capable of mixing it in a physical confrontation and you aren’t going to knock a man standing 6ft 4in off the ball easily, Maguire is very much a ball-playing defender.
This was evidenced in Russia and throughout last season as he was extremely adept at winning the ball and bringing it out of defence.
‘Slab head’ is a threat in both boxes too, with his height, bravery and eye for goal posing problems for opposition defenders.
Positioning – His positional sense often leaves him exposed and though he led Leicester in clearances last season, a lot of last ditch blocks and tackles could have been avoided with a heightened sense of where he needs to be.
Likewise, he likes to venture forward with the ball, which all modern managers appreciate in their centre-backs. But Maguire can too often run out of ideas and lose the ball high up the pitch due to dallying in possession. If he can decipher when to carry on with his run and when to pass to a more creative player in a better position, he could reach elite standards.
CLUBS LINKED TO AND BEST FIT
Although Leicester will be keen to build an assault on the European places around their commanding centre-back, his stock has risen rapidly following his exploits in Russia, and they may struggle to hang onto him.
On the other hand, if a monster offer comes in, as evidenced by the reported £50m Manchester United are willing to spend to take him to Old Trafford, Leicester may feel that would be a healthy return for a player that cost them just £17m a year ago.
For United, the allure of Maguire is obvious. He’s young and English but has plenty of experience. And in a defence which was rigid last season, yet has the far from commanding Chris Smalling as its leader, with Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones all struggling to stay out of the treatment room, Maguire would likely walk into the starting XI.
You could equally see Maguire settling in well at Arsenal who were a disaster in most areas of the pitch last season, but especially at the back. The once commanding Laurent Koscielny endured a nightmare campaign, while the high hopes for Shkodran Mustafi have fallen off a cliff.
With a new man finally at the helm after Unai Emery replaced the legendary yet increasingly languid Arsene Wenger, Maguire’s arrival could really fire the imagination of Gunners’ fans.
A move abroad seems unlikely for Maguire, but after a disastrous World Cup campaign at which Jerome Boateng proved once and for all that he is not an elite defender, Bayern Munich could do worse than bringing in the England man.
Commanding and imposing – two things Boateng and even Mats Hummels have not looked in recent times – the Bavarian giants’ signing of a strong centre-back would surely see their grip on the domestic scene tighten.
The Croatia midfielder’s performance this summer was a dream unfolding in reality: a brilliant player sprinkling the perfect blend of class, elegance, and genius on the world’s biggest stage to lead his side upon a glorious run to the final.
This tournament saw quite a few midfielders treat the world to displays of the utmost excellent, but no one did it quite like Modric, the man who tops our World Cup rankings for central midfielders. Have a look at our top five.
1. Luka Modric, Croatia
This was Luka Modric’s World Cup. That he ended up on the losing side in the final was equal parts heartbreaking and inconsequential – Croatia weren’t even supposed to be there. But they were, simply because, every time they played, Modric was everywhere, doing everything.
The Real Madrid midfielder delivered a masterclass in how one player can control a game. His passing, vision, and ability to keep hold of the ball were of a trademark high quality, and he added a stunning, signature goal against Argentina. But what was equally outstanding was that, at 32, he ran a greater distance than any other player. Winning the Golden Ball was just reward.
2. Paul Pogba, France
Here’s Paul Pogba‘s World Cup story: going from getting booed by his own fans at a pre-tournament friendly to grabbing a goal and an assist in the final. Along the way, Pogba grew into the player his talent had always promised, controlling France’s midfield and setting the tempo whether they were in attack or defence.
For a player who has been so criticised by the pundits and fans, this was a stunning riposte.
3. N’Golo Kante, France
That Pogba was able to be so effective and brilliant owed much to the player stationed alongside him. It’s been a remarkable rise for N’Golo Kante, going from France’s lower divisions to winning the World Cup in just five short years.
Kante was excellent in just about every game he played, but he’ll be remembered for his performance against Argentina in the round of 16, when he neutralised the threat of Lionel Messi. There aren’t many players who can say that.
4. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia
Modric took all the plaudits – including from Ivan Rakitic himself – but the Barcelona midfielder’s influence for Croatia cannot be understated. He was nearly as good as Modric, which, this summer, is the highest praise a player can get.
His goal against Argentina will live long in the memory, as will his contributions to Croatia’s two straight penalty shootout wins: it was Rakitic who scored the winner both times.
5. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
Fresh off leading Manchester City to a dominant Premier League title triumph, the World Cup was another stage for Kevin De Bruyne to strut his stuff. He wasn’t quite as spectacular as he’d been during the domestic season, and he was outshone by compatriots Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but he was nonetheless a classy presence in midfield.
And he did have his spectacular moment – the long-range strike against Brazil will go down as one of the biggest goals in Belgium’s history.
After displaying back-to-back solid performances for his national team, Raphael Varane has hit back at his critics.
Varane, who was a dominant force in France’s World Cup winning squad, alongside defensive partner Samuel Umtiti, believes he has answered criticism from those who think he is “too nice”.
“Since I was seven years old, they say ‘he’s nice, he’s nice’. Yes, I’m nice, but that’s not all I am,” said the Lille-born centre-back.
“You cannot have the career I’m having, staying at Real Madrid for seven years, without character.
At the age of just 25, the Real Madrid star has bagged 16 titles – Four Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, two league titles, one Copa del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups and one World Cup; an achievement worth all the praise.
The Frenchman however believes that this World Cup, he made a point and sent out a message to those who had questioned his character and compared him to Los Blancos captain Sergio Ramos in the past.
“Sometimes, I was asked to play like [Sergio] Ramos, to play like any other, to be more aggressive, to be more this, more that.
“I have my style of play; it has not done too badly until now. People have wanted me to change and it annoys me.
“Do we ask Ramos to be someone else? We take him as he is; take me as I am. I’m proud that, at this World Cup, I have – in quotation marks – ‘accepted myself as I am’.”