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Luke Shaw’s fitness issues are a worry, not only by Jose Mourinho

Luke Shaw signed for Manchester United during the summer of 2014 under the management of Louis van Gaal. At the time, Shaw was lauded as the permanent replacement for Patrice Evra, who left the club for Juventus the same summer. During his debut season at United, the 2014/15 season, Shaw made 20 appearances in all competitions, receiving two yellow cards and a red card (which was a second yellow in the 1-1 draw against West Ham United on the 8th January 2015). Shaw was picked out by Van Gaal during that season at various points about his fitness in which the Dutchman told the player to work harder. At the end of the season, Shaw took on extra training in a bid to better his fitness, which seemed to work as Shaw did well at the start of last season. During the 2015/16 season, Shaw made just eight appearances for United, breaking his leg in two places in the UEFA Champions League group stage match against PSV Eindhoven on the 15th September 2015, ending his season.

Shaw made his return to training with United just before the Emirates FA Cup final in which United beat Crystal Palace 2-1 after extra time with Juan Mata equalising in the 81st minute, three minutes after Jason Puncheon opened the scoring for Palace. In the 110th minute of the match, Jesse Lingard scored the winning goal with United lifting the FA Cup for the twelfth time. Shaw has been stepping up his return to training in the month before the FA Cup final, which would be a tough time for him. Shaw, now managed by Jose Mourinho after the sacking of Van Gaal a day after the FA Cup victory, played through United pre-season and started the curtain raiser of the season, the FA Community Shield at Wembley in which United beat Premier League champions Leicester City 2-1, with Lingard again scoring at Wembley and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring his first competitive goal for United. Shaw played for 69 minutes in the match. In total, Shaw started the first six matches this season, missing a month of action before he was involved again.

Shaw has played 15 times for United this season, starting 14 times and coming on as a substitute on one occasion. Out of the 14 starts, Shaw completed 90 minutes nine times, coming off in five matches. Shaw’s last match for United was in the 1-1 draw against Bournemouth in the Premier League at the start of March but was an unused substitute in the 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough before the international break. Shaw was called up for England, playing in the 1-0 friendly defeat to Germany, replacing Ryan Bertrand in the 83rd minute of the match. Shaw was in the squad for the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley but never made it onto the pitch. This weekend, with United returning to Premier League action, Ashley Young was preferred at left-back ahead of Shaw in the 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. After the match, a Press Association reported asked Jose Mourinho what Shaw needed to do in order to obtain a position on the bench for United. Mourinho’s response was damning:

“It’s difficult for him to be on the bench, because I cannot compare him with Ashley Young, with Matteo Darmian, with Daley Blind.

“I cannot compare the way he trains, the way he way he commits, the focus, the ambition.

“I cannot compare. He’s a long way behind.”

Former Manchester United and Class of 92 graduate Phil Neville commented on the predicament Shaw finds himself in, back Mourinho on what he has said about the player. The Daily Mail reported Neville as saying:

“If I was Luke Shaw, I wouldn’t be looking to get out of Manchester United.

“I’d be looking at that situation thinking that on Saturday (Mourinho) played Ashley Young at left-back, that he has been playing Matteo Darmian at left-back, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind. These are players who are not out-and-out left-backs.

“So rather than thinking ‘the manager doesn’t rate me’, I’d be thinking ‘I have to pull my finger out here’ and think the opportunity in front of me is absolutely huge, to be the No 1 left-back at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

“Something has to change for Luke Shaw, because someone with that ability has got to be England and Manchester United’s number one left-back, and if he’s not, then there is something fundamentally wrong.

“The comments coming from Jose Mourinho suggest there may be an attitude problem or a professionalism problem, and if that is the case, this could be the kick up the backside he needs.

“He needs to probably take a long hard look at himself and realise the opportunity that is in front of him.

“In life, you only get one opportunity at a club like Manchester United, and if you don’t grasp that opportunity, you end up being sold and going maybe back to (Shaw’s previous club) Southampton, thinking ‘should have, would have, could have’.

“I think it is at that point now for Luke Shaw where it is time to deliver and become the player that I believe he can become.

“Because I watched him pre-Manchester United and I thought he looked like a Manchester United number one left-back. He was a sensational player, and can still be a sensational player.

“But there is obviously something not quite right with him at this moment in time and I find it sad.”

The responses of Manchester United supporters about the comments Mourinho made has been tough. Some seem to blame Mourinho for breaking the confidence of the player after overcoming his double leg break at the start of last season. Some seem to forget that Mourinho is not the first, and probably not the last manager to criticise Shaw on his fitness issues. It is a well-known fact that Mauricio Pochettino had a tough task in getting Shaw to a good fitness level at Southampton. Louis van Gaal has doubts about his fitness during his debut season at the club. Roy Hodgson had the same problems when he was the England manager, and now Mourinho is talking about the same problems. All this cannot be blamed on the fact Shaw is struggling to return from that leg break, especially because it has happened before, long before his horror injury. Perhaps Phil Neville is right and Shaw does need a kick up the backside in order to push himself on. But saying that, should an adult be treated like that, given all these chances to prove himself and still let people down at the end?

There only seems to be one way this is going and that could be with Shaw leaving Manchester United in the summer. There is a chance that Mourinho, among others, are playing a game in order to try and get what is expected out of the 21-year-old, which seems to have been the case before as this is not the first time Mourinho has criticised the player. United have eight more matches to play in April, the next against Everton at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, then a visit to Sunderland on Sunday before travelling to Belgium to face Anderlecht in the quarter-final of the UEFA Europa League. Chelsea will be up against United at Old Trafford on Easter Sunday with the visit of Anderlecht to Old Trafford on the 20th April, Burnley away on the 23rd April, the Manchester derby at the Etihad on the 27th April and Swansea City at Old Trafford on the 30th April. With those matches in view, having Shaw at his best would be better for Mourinho and his players, but if he is not going to do what is required, everything he has played for will be lost. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are reported to be interested in the left-back this summer.

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