Harry Maguire has told his Manchester United team-mates there is “something wrong” if they are not motivated to fight their way out of the club’s slump.
In the most revealing account of United’s decline this season, the United captain painted a picture of an angry squad and calling for professionalism and unity to turn their season around.
Luke Shaw has pointed to a lack of motivation among players, while interim manager Ralf Rangnick has asked for unhappy players to deal with their disappointment in a professional manner.
Maguire has held discussions with players and Ralf Rangnick during a run of games that has seen them drop to seventh in the Premier League before a crucial FA Cup tie against Aston Villa on Monday for morale.
“I know a lot was written about Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams and the way he used that to spur his players on. He obviously did that brilliantly,” said Maguire.
“I’ve seen a lot of the criticism and a lot of it is absolutely correct. But for me, with this team, it shouldn’t need criticism to motivate players. If players of this quality are not motivated to play for this club when they pull on the shirt, then there is something wrong.
“We are all angry and want to do our best, which has probably come across on the pitch at times. But the team spirit is good despite what people say. Being a professional footballer you have to take criticism on the chin and react well to it.
“We’ve got a big squad. Of course not all players will always be happy as they are not playing but that is football and we all have to remain professional.”
On Saturday Marcus Rashford used his social-media platforms to say he was not sulking following the downturn in form.
“I have endless respect for both and I’m looking forward to bettering my game under the staff at Manchester United,” wrote Rashford. “I’m not sulking, I’m not unhappy, am I disappointed in some of my recent performances? Of course I am. I’m my own biggest critic.”
Since Rangnick’s appointment United have won four matches, but the German has told his players their poor body language is helping opponents, then revealed his alarm at their lack of intensity and use of the ball while dropping points against Newcastle and Wolves.
In a further blow, Paul Pogba is facing a further six weeks on the sidelines. Rangnick said it would be another four weeks before Pogba was able to return to training from his thigh injury and another fortnight after that before the France midfielder is expected to be in a position to be able to play games.
“As far as I know from the medical department, it will last another three weeks, four weeks and once he is then fit for training it does not necessarily mean he is also match fit,” said Rangnick. “It will probably take a couple of weeks [after that] before he is really able to compete for the first team.”
Shaw spoke out after last week’s defeat to Wolves as form over the festive fixtures continued to dip. Maguire is not using the excuse of the closure of the Carrington training base over Covid cases.
“Sometimes it can be good to have an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” said Maguire. “For sure. It’s always been like that for United players and we have to deal with it. The most important thing for us is the fans, we are letting them down.
“This team finished second last year and we have a better and bigger squad this year so we have to show the right attitude. We have big players in the team, leaders. I’m sick of repeating myself but it can’t continue like this, we need to go on a proper run starting on Monday.
“A lot of it (criticism) is justified and we all have to take massive responsibility, myself as captain as much as anyone, if not more. I’m the captain and leader in the dressing room, I’ve had private conversations with the players and the management which will remain private. Make no mistake I’m here for the fight and I know my team-mates are. I expect them to be and if they are not then there is something wrong.
“We can’t use Covid as an excuse, we are in a privileged position. A lot of people are far far worse off than us and we’ve got a duty to support them where we can, like the NHS. So we’ve got to get our heads down and do better, no matter what is thrown our way. Other clubs have the same problems as us.”