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27 Jul 2018

Manchester United: Is Luke Shaw taking the easy way out?

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Past promise

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Injuries and fitness issues

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Staying at United

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The easy option?

(Photo credit: Matt Janzer)

Luke Shaw’s contract with Manchester United is up at the end of the upcoming season, a with only eight league starts under Mourinho last season, it was expected that he would be sold this summer and replaced with a new left back.

However, in a recent interview with ESPN, Shaw has revealed that he may still have a future at United.

Past promise

He joined the Red Devils in 2014 after signing from Southampton at the age of 18, with his price tag of £30 million making him the world’s most expensive teenage footballer at the time.

Named as the Premier League’s best left back for the 2013/14 season, he spent his summer in Brazil as part of England’s World Cup squad, making an appearance in the last group match against Costa Rica. At this point it was predicted that Shaw would become one of the world’s best.

His first season at Old Trafford went well enough, with the teenager making 16 Premier League appearances. He started every league match at the start of the 2015/16 season until he broke his leg in a tackle on 15 September 2015, which saw him miss the rest of the season.

Injuries and fitness issues

Since then he has fallen out of favour with manager Jose Mourinho, featuring sporadically in the Premier League last season. His worst moment came when the Portuguese hauled him off at half-time in an FA Cup fixture against Brighton. Subsequently, he was left out of England’s 2018 World Cup squad.

Injuries have a part to play in this fall from grace, but Shaw has also always been surrounded by accusations that he is out of shape. Upon signing for United in 2014, then-manager Louis van Gaal devised a personal fitness program for Shaw as he didn’t think he was fit enough.

These concerns were shared by England manager Roy Hodgson, who said he had to warn Shaw about his fitness during the 2014 World Cup. Mourinho has also often criticised Shaw about his weight, suggesting that his failure to fulfil expectations comes down to his fitness.

Staying at United

In a recent interview however, Shaw has hit back at critics. He has just completed his own pre-season training camp in Dubai and has posted photos of himself on social media looking noticeably leaner. He puts the previous criticism regarding his weight down to the way he is built, stating, ‘Yeah, of course I always look big because I’m bigger built. You could say a Wayne Rooney type of body.’ 

He has also stated that he is going to stay at United this season to fight for his place in the team and earn a new contract, viewing leaving Old Trafford as the easy option. 

Mourinho, despite his criticism of Shaw, supports him with this. The United manager sent him a text during pre-season which said, ‘I know what you can do – you can be the best but you’ve just got to work on a couple of things.’ 

With Ashley Young still recovering from the World Cup, Shaw will have the chance he needs right at the start of the season to prove why he should be United’s first choice left-back. However, he will have to perform at his absolute best to overtake Young in the starting eleven. 

The easy option?

A better solution for Shaw could be to start from scratch, move to a team where he is guaranteed regular playing time, and build his way back to the top. He has claimed that leaving would be the easy thing to do, but this option would be harder than coasting at Manchester United and would prove that he was willing to make it at the top level. 

At the age of 23, Shaw still has time to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward. Everton are reportedly interested in the left-back, but Shaw seems determined to stay and prove his worth at Old Trafford.

If fitness has been the main issue in Shaw’s poor performances over the past few years, he can easily redeem himself through a change in mentality and ensuring he has the correct work ethic for a professional footballer. His pre-season activity suggests that this seems to be what he is working on, and if he can keep it up throughout the season, his decision to stay at Old Trafford may be the right one. 

However, if he doesn't force his way into the starting XI, he could spend another season on the bench, damaging his career even further.