April 21, 2021

Man Utd

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Luke Shaw is finally showing Manchester United he can be a world class player

8 min read

Luke Shaw is enjoying his best season in Manchester United colours and looks a completely transformed player from the one who struggled under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho

This was in evidence in United’s derby win over City on Sunday, when Shaw scored a superb goal to cap a man of the match performance.

United fan and writer Scott Patterson, of the Republik of Mancunia website, reflects on how Shaw is finally realising his potential at Old Trafford. 

Luke Shaw roars with delight after scoring Manchester United's second goal at City on Sunday

Luke Shaw roars with delight after scoring Manchester United’s second goal at City on Sunday

Luke Shaw controlled the ball with his chest in his own half and he was away, sprinting down the left wing before playing it to Marcus Rashford inside the Manchester City penalty area, and then making himself available to receive the ball back. 

It’s unlikely that the five players in the City box had intentionally left Shaw unmarked but, given he only had two goals to his name during his nine-year Premier League career to date, it would be understandable that he wasn’t seen as a major threat.

But this is a new Shaw, a player who has made such remarkable progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer you can hardly believe it’s the same man. If anyone deserved a goal on derby day, it was him.

He directed his shot to the far post, the ball evading the City defenders’ outstretched feet and through Rodri’s legs. The precision in placing his strike was superb.

City's defenders backed off Shaw, giving the defender enough space to fire home left-footed

City’s defenders backed off Shaw, giving the defender enough space to fire home left-footed

The goal capped a man of the match performance for Shaw as United won at the Etihad again

The goal capped a man of the match performance for Shaw as United won at the Etihad again

United fans have been accustomed to seeing Shaw dart down the wing this season but it’s not too often he ends up in the penalty area. 

We saw him do exactly that in Eindhoven back in 2015 though, the last time he was playing with the confidence we’ve seen this season, before PSV’s Hector Moreno scythed him down. 

The challenge ended up causing a double fracture of his right leg and he didn’t play for United again until the following season.

By the time he returned to fitness the manager who had signed him, Louis van Gaal, had been replaced by Jose Mourinho and Shaw had a terrible time. 

His performances were largely average and Mourinho came down hard on him. 

Louis van Gaal brought Shaw to Old Trafford in 2014 but was soon questioning his fitness

Louis van Gaal brought Shaw to Old Trafford in 2014 but was soon questioning his fitness

It took some time for Shaw to find his feet at United, having joined the club from Southampton

It took some time for Shaw to find his feet at United, having joined the club from Southampton

Considering how the manager talked about Shaw publicly, you can only imagine what he was saying to him on the training ground and in the dressing room. 

Shaw was only 22, had just come back from a potential career-ending injury and then was faced with a manager who tore strips off him all too regularly.

The fan base was divided, with those backing the manager and his tough love approach with a player who wasn’t performing and those who blamed Shaw’s poor form solely on the degrading treatment from Mourinho as he battled to return to the player he was pre-injury.

The reality of Shaw’s struggles was likely somewhere between the two though. United fans look back on his second year, misty-eyed, seeing Shaw as the best left-back we’d had since Patrice Evra. 

Shaw suffered a double fracture to his right leg after this horror tackle from Hector Moreno

Shaw suffered a double fracture to his right leg after this horror tackle from Hector Moreno

The injury kept Shaw sidelined for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, an enormous setback

The injury kept Shaw sidelined for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, an enormous setback

His performances that season, before the injury, have been hailed as world class as supporters reflect on what might have been if he hadn’t broken his leg.

But the truth is that Shaw had his issues before the injury. He had been a disappointment during his first campaign, having joined pre-season training overweight and was told to train separately to the rest of the group. 

It’s not the start you’d expect from a teenager who had just joined Manchester United.

‘He needs to be fit and is not very fit and fit enough to do what I want,’ Van Gaal said at the time. ‘He needs to train individually until he is fit.’

The player himself later admitted he hadn’t prepared himself well enough for his new club, having just become the most expensive teenager in the world. 

‘Maybe I took it a little bit easy over my time off after the World Cup,’ he confessed. ‘Maybe I didn’t think it was going to be as hard and as quick as it was.

‘People can say I’m fat but I know my own body. I always look big because I’m bigger built – I’ve got that Wayne Rooney type of body.’ 

Shaw was belittled by Jose Mourinho with the manager's treatment described as a 'disgrace'

Shaw was belittled by Jose Mourinho with the manager’s treatment described as a ‘disgrace’

Mourinho's 'tough love' approach split opinion among the United fanbase, however

Mourinho’s ‘tough love’ approach split opinion among the United fanbase, however 

Shaw had played just 10 games the season of his leg break and he’d done very well. He was starting to look like the player United had expected when they had spent all that money on him. 

But it’s difficult to judge a player based on their performances over such a short period of time. When you dig a little deeper, while the left-back clearly had ability, there were big question marks over his attitude and work-rate.

After Van Gaal had publicly raised the issue of Shaw’s fitness, the England manager at the time, who had just taken the youngster to the World Cup, echoed these sentiments. 

Roy Hodgson revealed that Shaw had to be spoken to ‘a couple of times’ on the training pitch. 

Alarm bells should be ringing if a teenager representing their country at a World Cup in Brazil needs to have chats about their fitness and effort. 

Shaw played for England at the 2014 World Cup but his international career never took off

Shaw played for England at the 2014 World Cup but his international career never took off

England's manager at the time, Roy Hodgson, was another to raise fitness concerns

England’s manager at the time, Roy Hodgson, was another to raise fitness concerns 

Hodgson also claimed that Shaw’s manager at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino, had also voiced his concerns.

Going back even further, to his days as an academy player at Southampton, Shaw’s coach Jason Dodd also confirmed what every other manager was saying about him.

‘You need to give him a cuddle and then you give him a little dig,’ Dodd said. ‘That’s the way you’ve got to challenge him to get him going… If you had to question some of it, yeh, it’s his drive, training every day to give absolutely everything. 

‘He can have days when he’s just going through the motions, but you’re at Man United!’

Time and again over the summers it would be revealed that Shaw had been involved in extra training sessions, hiring someone to work with him individually, and United fans would rejoice over the ‘real’ Shaw returning. 

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, Shaw is finally flourishing as a Man United player

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, Shaw is finally flourishing as a Man United player 

But the season would start and it would be more of the same. And being fair to him, the fact he kept picking up injuries didn’t help his progression.

Now, in his seventh campaign at the club, Shaw is performing consistently well week in week out. 

He will almost certainly go to the Euros as England’s first choice left-back and has staked his claim for being the best in his position in the league. 

If Pep Guardiola had overseen such a turnaround, people would use it as further evidence of his genius, yet Solskjaer’s input in Shaw’s development has largely been overlooked. 

But the player himself recognises the difference the manager has made to his career.

Shaw didn't put a foot wrong as United won at the Etihad Stadium for their third visit in a row

Shaw didn’t put a foot wrong as United won at the Etihad Stadium for their third visit in a row

‘His man-management is second to none,’ Shaw said of Solskjaer last month

‘He’s really good and I feel like he knows exactly what he needs to do to get the best out of the players. 

‘Of course, it’s always nice to have an arm around a shoulder, I’d be lying if I say it doesn’t make you feel better, but it’s just the confidence and the belief that the manager has shown in me that’s pushed me onto another level.’

It’s not just the man-management from Solskjaer that has been a success, but the competition for places he created. 

The manager identified Alex Telles as the player to join the squad as back-up to Shaw, joining United for £15 million last summer, and it’s no coincidence he opted for a player whose strengths lay in what he could add to the attack. 

With 11 goals and eight assists in the Primeira Liga the season before his signed, averaging a direct goal contribution every 134.6 minutes, Solskjaer was challenging Shaw to fulfil his potential and become the attacking full-back the team required. 

Additional competition at left-back from Alex Telles seems to have spurred more from Shaw

Additional competition at left-back from Alex Telles seems to have spurred more from Shaw

The likes of Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo hadn’t shared his best attributes, so it’s easy to imagine the presence of a competitor for his position saw Shaw put pressure himself to improve.

Shaw’s job obviously isn’t to score goals but seeing him wrap up the three points at the Etihad, the third game in a row that the left-back has been on the winning team away to City, was fantastic. 

The fact United have only conceded one goal in that time, a late consolation from Nicolas Otamendi back in 2019, probably speaks more highly of Shaw’s contribution on derby days though.

In 2018-19, Shaw was voted Player of the Season by both the fans and his teammates, edging out second placed Victor Lindelof, in a year where no player was worthy of the award.

If Shaw was the best player United had that season, which is debatable, you wouldn’t want to see how the worst performed! 

Luke Shaw won both the United Players' Player of the Year and Fans' Player of the Year in 2019

Luke Shaw won both the United Players’ Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year in 2019

This year, he will almost certainly lose out to Bruno Fernandes, but at last he is worthy of the praise. 

It’s not coming off the back of 10 good games but a season of consistency, which has seen him more solid defensively and vital to United’s attack. 

The fact that only Jadon Sancho (36) and Filip Kostic (35) have created more chances than Shaw’s 34 this year in Europe’s top five leagues speaks volumes.

Yet being on top of your game for one season does not equal true greatness and the test for Solskjaer now will be to keep Shaw injury-free and performing at this level. 

Shaw finally seems to have the hunger for the game, the desire to improve and be the best, and United fans will be desperate for him to continue.

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