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Luke Shaw IN: Sheer Luck or Mourinho’s Trust?

It has been four years now since Luke Shaw joined Manchester United from Southampton, as the most expensive teenager, back then. The young left-back thought to be the next sensation has not hit the strides he would have liked to. People have had varying opinions about him, some considering his skills were over-estimated, while others believing that he may have been a bargain for United. The fact remains that even to this day few can say that he is done for.

It all started, when he burst on to the scene at St. Mary’s Stadium as a 16-year-old academy graduate. He featured heavily for Southampton and continued to impress at left-back for the next two seasons. There was a lot of buzz surrounding him and many big clubs including Chelsea, Manchester City were linked with him. Jose Mourinho, then manager of Chelsea, wanted to get him early on, but decided against it, stating that Shaw’s pay demands were too high for his age.

“If we pay to a 19-year-old boy what we were being asked for, to sign Luke Shaw, we are dead. Because when you pay that much to a 19-year-old kid – a good player, fantastic player – but when you pay that amount of money, the next day, we would have had players knocking on our door.”

Mourinho eventually would get his player, as in 2014, his predecessor Louis van Gaal, signed Shaw as a potential replacement to an aging Patrice Evra. After a brief timeout due to a hamstring injury, the left-footed defender began a new life at Manchester United and soon became a contender for a place in the starting-11.

His first season at United had it’s ups and downs, as minor injuries kept him out in patches. He reached his peak form at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, playing really well in all 5 Premier League games until he suffered a horrific double-leg fracture in the opening game in UEFA Champions League against PSV Eindhoven. He did not feature for the rest of the season and began his recovery and rehabilitation, as United bid farewell to Louis van Gaal and welcomed Jose Mourinho.

Being tactical and quick, he was likened to be a ‘typical Mourinho player’. Loads of energy coupled up with the ability to help out in attack destined him to succeed under Mourinho. Being a left-footed player on the left-wing, he could whip in wicked crosses as well. Despite these abilities and skills, he fell short of the expectations and did not manage to impress the new manager during the 2016-17 season.

He faced a lot of public criticism from Mourinho after the defeat against Watford when his mistake led to the second goal for Watford (eventual 3-1 winners)

“But their second goal is a mistake that goes against our plan and our training because our intention was for their wing-backs to be pressed and not let them progress. And what happened was the guy gets the ball 20-25 metres away from our box and instead of being pressed, we give him the space to progress. Nordin Amrabat receives the ball and our left-back Luke Shaw is 25 metres from him instead of five.”

Following the Watford loss, he wasn’t included in the squad and then had a groin injury that kept him out for two months. In the game against Everton, Shaw had a decent outing as a second-half substitute but was still derided by Mourinho.

“He [Shaw] had a good performance but it was his body with my brain. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him. I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him. At this level we need the fantastic body he has to play football, the very good technical ability he has, but he cannot play with my understanding of the game.”

Another foot surgery followed, keeping him out until the start of the 2017-18 season. Many thought that his United career was done and dusted, but Shaw showed intense desire and grit to fight for his spot in the team. Despite playing only 11 games, Mourinho could see the improvement in Shaw during the 2017-18 season and deservedly heaped praise for the fighting spirit the youngster had shown during his recovery.

“Luke has done very well. He was already improving and playing well when I started playing him after that long spell without minutes. He was good, solid, physically much better, mentally much stronger, tactically understanding much better the game and what we need from him in the different phases and circumstances. I’m really happy. You like the transfer market and I can say in this moment, I don’t see many left-backs better than Luke Shaw.”

Despite the kind words from the manager, Shaw’s critics believe that Jose’s hand is forced to keep Shaw at United. They believe that Shaw has managed to stay in the team for such a long time because of a lack of resources in the left-back position. They point to the fact that United’s first choice left-back is Ashley Young, who turned 33 this year. Daley Blind, another left-back option has left the club to re-join Ajax while Marcos Rojo, who has featured in a left-back position for United, has had his fair share of injury troubles.

But on the other hand, Shaw featured heavily in Manchester United’s pre-season tour in the United States and performed well in a back-5 formation that Mourinho tried out. Although he wasn’t back to his blistering quick pace, it was encouraging to watch him run the flanks, cross the ball in, at times, and track back well to defend. The amount of time Mourinho has given Shaw in this preseason clearly indicates that Mourinho trusts him.

Mourinho does tend to prefer professionals in his team, players who want to better themselves and can handle failures. When Nemanja Matic signed for United, Mourinho justified his choice for the midfielder by sharing an incident that occurred during his time at Chelsea. He had subbed off Matic, who had come in as a sub at halftime. Matic, although depressed, asked Mourinho to help him get over this bump, rather than bitterly sulk about this incident.

Maybe, just maybe, Mourinho sees the same in Shaw. It should be noted that Mourinho had identified the potential in Shaw, way back during his spell at Chelsea. It is plausible that he still believes Shaw can make it big at United and be the first choice left-back for years to come. He has stuck with him during the injury and the recovery phases and is willing to give him one final chance of cracking into the starting-11. Whether Shaw can deliver or not, that remains to be seen, but it’s safe to expect him to fight for his life in the upcoming season.

Written by Chinmay Tembe

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