February 19, 2020
SMI recognition in Chris Maguire turnaround
They've labelled him The King on Wearside, but Chris Maguire's time at Sunderland has been plagued with inconsistency.
Able to produce glorious moments - see his goal last season at Doncaster, his winner against Portsmouth in the play-offs that sent Sunderland to Wembley for a second time that season, or his stunning free-kick against Wycombe last month - but he has brought as much frustration to Sunderland supporters and his manager Phil Parkinson as he has joyous moments.
Frustrating because moments like the ones listed above are what everybody can see the forward is capable of, but they've come all too infrequently during his time on Wearside. His record of 19 goals and 14 assists since arriving in the summer of 2018 make him one of Sunderland's most productive players of the last two seasons, but he can, at times, leave you equally feeling like banging your head off a brick wall.
That was until December 29's trip to Doncaster. In the seven games from that day the 31-year-old, in visibly better shape, netted four goals and registered three assists. It earned him a well-deserved nomination for the League One Player of the Month (which he ultimately missed out on at the expense of Peterborough's Ivan Toney).
It could have been so very different, however.
On December 7 Maguire came off the bench for just a minute as Sunderland's dreadful form continued with a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham. It was what followed that could have easily ended Maguire's Sunderland career though.
He and team-mate Aiden McGeady were pictured at a service station in club tracksuits eating a McDonald's. 'It's not very professional, is it?' blasted Parkinson four days later at his next press conference.
It was a transformative week for Parkinson's Sunderland career. He wouldn't turn the bad form for a few weeks after, but it was the week he made his big mark on what he suggested at the time was a weak dressing room.
McGeady was the star man; the best player. Parkinson, unhappy with his attitude, ostracised him; sent him to train with the under-23s after a meeting with his agent where he told them to find a new club when the window opened in January.
McGeady and his agent weren't the only players called in for a frank meeting though. Maguire and his representative were called for one too. It's fair to say the Scot's went far differently to McGeady's.
"I had a good chat with Chris, his agent and Nick Allamby (Sunderland's physical performance coach)," Parkinson revealed. "We sat down a few months ago and talked through the areas he needed to improve on in terms of the way he prepared for games, and he’s taken everything on board.
“I think everybody knows with Chris that he’s always striving for that consistency level, and he’s started to show that. His fitness levels are better, he’s lost weight, and he’s training better.
He’s reaped the rewards for that on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening. It goes hand in hand. If you get yourself in good physical condition, you can keep producing the performances, and I’m pleased for him because he’s got his rewards with his performances.
"The challenge for Chris now is not to pat himself on the back too much. We certainly won’t be giving him too much praise because I believe he’s got the ability to push on again.
"He’s done well. We’re pleased with where Chris is, he’s found that consistency level, but like I say, I really believe Chris should have that real desire now to push on again."
Maguire was certainly a huge influence as Sunderland went nine unbeaten and shot themselves up the League One table, recovering from a record-low 15th position on Boxing Day to sixth when they arrived at Fratton Park on February 1 last Saturday.
Sunderland of course lost that game at Portsmouth, dropping out of the play-off places in the process. A game in hand, however, offers them a route back, but they know their form will have to be good in the final three months of the season if they're to achieve their goals.
Parkinson knows, if Maguire can maintain his form they'll have half a chance.
"Chris has got end product," Parkinson said of him. "He produces, be it with assists or attempts on goal. That's what he can do, and he's done it all his career.
"But you can't just rest on your laurels and think, 'Well, I'm going to keep getting picked because I can take an occasional free-kick'.
"You've got to contribute more to the team in and out of possession, and that's what we've been stressing to Chris because you look at the modern game and everybody's got to do both sides of the game.
"Teams in the Premiership, they don't carry any passengers when the opposition have got the ball.
"Chris is now buying into that and understanding that, 'I want to maximise my potential, I want to play at the highest, the best club I can, which is Sunderland, and at the highest possible level'.
"And to do that, you've got to do everything - both sides the game - and he is capable of doing it."
Maguire didn't win January's player of the month award, but there's no doubting he wears the crown on Wearside. And that crown will be worshipped far more if Maguire can continue his form between now and the end of the season to catapult Sunderland to promotion.Back