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It’s not been plain sailing for Luke Shaw under Jose Mourinho. But if United’s manager doesn’t want to risk losing the England international it’s time to start trusting him…
Manchester United have always had great full-backs. Whether it be Roger Byrne, the captain of the great Busby Babes side, or more recently Manchester’s own Gary Neville.
Often under-appreciated, the full-back role has changed massively over the last decade or so. United full-backs have often been some of the club’s most consistent players, putting in 7 or 8 out of 10 performances week in week out.
After an awful debut in the Manchester derby, Patrice Evra learnt about the club’s history and what it means to play for Manchester United. He went from strength to strength and became one of United’s most loved players in recent times, for both his quality as a player and connection with supporters.
Since Evra’s departure to Juventus in the summer of 2014, no one has been able to make the left-back position their own. The purchase of Luke Shaw from Southampton had already been sanctioned before Louis van Gaal had been appointed United manager, but looked like a clever signing from Ed Woodward. Van Gaal also bought in compatriot Daley Blind, a left footed defensive player able to cover multiple positions.
Shaw made his Southampton debut at just 17 years of age, during the 2012/13 season, showing signs of what is expected from the modern full-back. The following season was Shaw’s major breakout season, making 38 appearances across all competitions.
Shaw signed for Man United on 27th June 2014, as a 19-year-old, with his estimated £30 million price tag making him the most expensive teenager in world football. Shaw was under pressure from the outset.
Before signing for United, there was interest from Chelsea, who eventually tamed their interest because of the player’s, or more likely his agents’, wage demands. The Chelsea manager at the time was of course José Mourinho. Some people have even suggested that Mourinho’s reluctance to use Shaw this season is because he didn’t join Mourinho at Chelsea.
Shaw’s horrific injury last season was obviously a huge setback both physically and, more importantly, mentally. Physically recovering from the injury was a long and hard journey but Shaw recovered in the expected time frame. What’s yet to be seen is whether or not he’s fully recovered mentally. For one so young, it was bound to take time for Shaw to get back to his best.
Mourinho’s arrival at United should have been a positive for Shaw. His new manager clearly rated him, as he tried to sign him two years prior.
Shaw started the season well, showing signs that he was regaining his confidence but a poor performance away to Watford saw Mourinho publically criticise Shaw for being out of position for one of Watford’s goals, which saw United lose 3-1 in a disastrous away trip.
Shaw has struggled with a couple of minor injuries as well as illness throughout the season, which again saw Mourinho take a dig at the fullback and Chris Smalling saying:
“Smalling doesn’t feel that he can play 100% with his pain. Shaw told me this morning that he was not able to play. For the team, you have to do anything. There is a difference between the brave, who want to play at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.
If I were to speak with the many great football people of this team, they will say they played many times without being 100%. We have players on the pitch with problems. In every sport, how many times do you play and you’re not 100%?”
Since then, Shaw has hardly featured for United, but Mourinho needs to trust the Englishman. At just 18 years of age, Shaw was one of the most impressive young players in the country, and in 2014 was named on the 40-man shortlist for the Golden Boy award. The talent is 100% unquestionable.
The overlapping runs from deep are reminiscent of a mid-twenties Patrice Evra and showcase his fantastic pace. Shaw is able to carry to ball across long distances, driving into the final third to create an extra attacking threat.
His pre-injury partnership with Memphis Depay showed great promise, Shaw becoming one of United’s best players. Though sadly curtailed by injury, at 21 he has years to improve.
When looking at United’s other left-back options, it’s hard to see anyone other than Shaw as a natural in that position. Marcos Rojo, often deployed there by van Gaal, looks awful at left-back, to be frank. Daley Blind, as composed and efficient on the ball as he is, simply isn’t physical enough to be a first choice José Mourinho defender.
Shaw made his first England appearance since 8th September 2015 in England’s 1-0 loss to Germany on 22nd March 2017. With the World Cup just over a year away, Shaw has a huge decision to make. Prove to Mourinho he should be the club’s left-back or move on.
The ability is there and Mourinho has admitted he’s working hard in training. He just needs to be trusted.
Words: Kieran S. Stewart