Some 111 players have made more tackles than Marc Guehi in the Premier League this season. If the number disappoints the Crystal Palace centre-back, it may be because it isn’t higher. Guehi could have the eyes of a nation on him, likely to start at least one of England’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia in the absence of John Stones, pushing for a place in Gareth Southgate’s strongest side, but he craves a brand of anonymity. If he goes unnoticed, he figures he has probably done well.
In that respect, he draws inspiration from arguably the greatest defender of all. “I think [Paolo] Maldini said something like, ‘if you have to make a tackle, you weren’t in the right position in the first place,’” Guehi said. “I think if a defender can go in a game and seems to be doing absolutely nothing then he is doing absolutely everything right. Obviously there are times when you might have to make a last-minute tackle because of whatever is happening in the game but if I can avoid being seen in a game, as crazy as it sounds, I am doing my job.”
If one of the most famous images of an England centre-back is Terry Butcher at war, bloodied and bandaged, a picture of defiance, the other approach was adopted by Bobby Moore: often immaculate, rarely going to ground, using his reading of the game. Guehi may lean more toward the latter school of thought, though he said: “There are a lot of defenders that are overly aggressive so they rely on that in their game. There are a lot of defenders who don’t worry about that, they are a lot cuter in their movements and how to win the ball. I think I am a bit of both: I can be aggressive, I can be more cute.”
His analytical approach may endear him to Gareth Southgate, once a thoughtful centre-back himself, and Roy Hodgson. Guehi was not born until 2000 but his reference points include great left-backs who played for each of the Milan giants in the 1990s.
In part, that is due to Hodgson’s epic career, which included two spells at San Siro. “He mentioned something about Inter Milan, back in the day, and he was talking about Roberto Carlos. Even to think he has coached Roberto Carlos,” Guehi marvelled. “You are sat in the meeting and you are like, ‘honestly, wow’. You are taken aback.”
Guehi has had closer brushes with greatness. Chelsea never granted him a Premier League appearance but he was afforded an education at Stamford Bridge. Claude Makelele had a mentoring role to younger players and, when Guehi went on loan in 2020 and lost his place, he proved a valuable sounding board.
“It was tough for me at Swansea,” Guehi said. “I have not spoken about it. Everyone thinks it was plain sailing, great. I played the first four games and then I didn’t play up until after lockdown. Being away from home, in Swansea, different country, on your own, there’s going to be challenges, it’s going to be tough.”
He was just able to leave Wales before lockdown was imposed. “Thankfully, I did get back home, just in time,” he said. It was then the advice of Makelele, Paulo Ferreira and Carlo Cudicini proved helpful. “Sometimes it is nice to hear it from someone else,” Guehi said. “It is the harsh realities of life and football: things might not be going great for you but you have to persevere, push through, stay strong.”
Which he did. He regained his place in June 2020, had a successful second season at Swansea and then joined Palace for £18m in 2021. An England debut followed the next year: it felt a smooth rise for an Under-17 World Cup winner in 2017.
But there are differences in Guehi’s past. He used to miss some matches when he was younger. He plays centre-back, but also the drums. His father is a musician but also a pastor. Football was not always the priority on Sundays. “There were definitely times where I wasn’t able to [play] just because God [came] first,” he said. “In my house that was the rule.”
It changed as he got older, with his family’s support. “They understood that was where my life was going,” he said. “But definitely now if I have the time I still go to church.” With the Euro 2024 final on a Sunday, however, there may be days when Guehi doesn’t have the time.