Maguire returned to the England starting lineup for Tuesday night’s comprehensive 3-0 friendly win over Ivory Coast and was jeered by a small section of the home support at Wembley, both when his name was read out ahead of kick-off and when having his first touches during the game.
The centre-back’s club form has dipped badly this season amid the turmoil on and off the pitch at Manchester United and Southgate admitted that his selection for this month’s international break had been more “complicated” than in the past.
However, he pointed to Maguire’s history of top performances for the national side – not least at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 – as reason for him to keep his place.
“I thought the reception was a joke, absolute joke,” Southgate told Sky Sports. “What he’s done for us, the way he’s performed for England has been phenomenal. I don’t get it. We’re either all in this together or we’re not.
“He’s in an England shirt and not only should you support a player in an England shirt regardless, but when he’s played at the level he has and put the performances in he has, it should be total commitment behind him. I don’t get that at all.
“I would imagine if you asked a few why they were doing that, they wouldn’t actually be able to answer. It becomes a mob mentality. At one end of the ground, you’ve got hardcore section of fans playing his song and trying to get his name sung, so I’m aware it’s not everybody. But we’re either all in this together or we’re not.”
Southgate also spoke of his concern that fans’ treatment of Maguire could lead to other players feeling inhibited by the pressure of playing for England, one of the key trends his tenure has helped to reverse.
“Don’t think for one minute the other players won’t be looking at that thinking: ‘That could be me one day’,” Southgate added.
“And that’s been one of the problems with playing for England. Players have thought, ‘Do I want to go? Because when it turns a bit difficult, the crowd is going to turn on me.’
“We need Harry Maguire playing well if we’re going to have a chance [in Qatar]. We’re not going to win a World Cup with a load of players with 3 or 4 caps.
That’s not happened in the history of the game. We need our experienced players playing well, particularly in those positions on the field.
“He’s top quality. In my opinion, he’s the best centre back at his club as well. Where this is all starting or being fed I’m not sure. It’s ludicrous. Every time he steps on pitch every action is analysed to death. I can’t remember a player having that sort of spotlight on him.”