After Manchester United’s goalless draw at home to West Brom in April, José Mourinho was in a prickly mood. The draw piled further criticism onto the Portuguese manager’s back, and was combined with questions about his decision to leave Luke Shaw out of the squad. His response?
“I cannot compare the way he trains [with other contenders for the position], the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. He is a long way behind”
The comments were nothing short of scathing from Mourinho, like a damning parents’ evening assessment from a disappointed teacher, and Shaw’s path to the United first-team was looking bleaker than ever before. His manager was not shy to publically out Shaw, and this comment was just one in a streak of home truths that he wanted his young defender to face.
So far, not so good
When United signed Shaw from Southampton, in 2014, for £30m – making him the world’s most expensive teenager – few people blinked at the extraordinary fee for a full-back. He had excelled in his two full seasons at St. Mary’s and was widely considered to be England’s next Ashley Cole. United’s £30m was buying them a left-back for a minimum of ten years.
Since then, Shaw’s stock has gradually dropped. An average first season, in which he made 16 appearances, failed to live up to expectations, yet his age, potential and the tepid form of his more senior teammates ensured that he was sheltered from any extensive criticism. He started the 2015/16 season as Louis van Gaal’s starting left-back, but suffered a season-ending injury in September against PSV.
His return to competitive action paralleled with the start of the Mourinho-era at Old Trafford. The Portuguese boss had been heavily interested in Shaw in his time at Chelsea, and was expected to enjoy finally having the young English left-back at his disposal.
The fairytale didn’t last long, however, as Shaw struggled to regain form and confidence after his long-term injury. He only made 11 league appearances and was consistently in and out of the matchday squad, let alone the starting eleven. His fitness and commitment were regularly questioned by his boss, and Mourinho even claimed that Shaw could only play well when receiving close instructions from the touchline.
His final opportunity?
He was widely expected to leave Old Trafford this summer, but looks to have survived the window as The Times have reported that a new contract is now on the table. United have been chasing a left-back all summer, most notably in the form of Danny Rose, but with such slim pickings now available, Mourinho looks to be sticking with what he has.
This could be a master-stroke from the ‘Special One’. Only three years ago, Shaw was considered the best young talent that England had. His injury and lack of game-time have no doubt stunted his development, but the natural talent is there. Whilst his reputation with developing homegrown players is questionable, Mourinho is a good coach and with a bit of patience, there’s no doubt that he could resurrect Shaw’s mojo.
Born to attack
In a more attacking system – to which Mourinho looks to have embraced if Sunday’s win over West Ham is anything to go by – Shaw can thrive. At Southampton, his strengths were in attack, with his fearless marauding runs catching the eye of his suitors.
In the 2013/14 season, he made 56 successful dribbles – the most by any left-back in the league – and the second highest number of successful crosses (29). To put that in perspective, Danny Rose made only 24 successful dribbles last season and put in 13 successful crosses. He’s a player that needs to be able to express himself, and Mourinho’s hardline approach is only limiting the most important part of his game.
If Shaw can perform like a man reborn, then it will save United a sizeable amount of money. A £50m move for Rose has been mooted, but Shaw was rated higher back in 2014 and certainly has the potential to surpass the Tottenham man’s ability. Due to his early breakthrough, people seem to forget that Shaw has only just turned 22; he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his performance ceiling.
This new contract appears to be a final show of faith in Shaw by the Manchester United hierarchy, and I’m sure that he will be more determined than ever to grab the opportunity. With the World Cup on the horizon, a good season could even see the 22-year-old edge into Gareth Southgate’s scope, but he faces heavy competition in the form of Rose, Leighton Baines and Ryan Bertrand. A disappointing season, and Shaw’s Old Trafford story could come to a sorry end.
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