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Where did it all go wrong for Luke Shaw?

Luke Shaw signed for Manchester United for £30 million in July 2014 aged just 18. Following two strong seasons in the first-team with his academy club Southampton, much was expected of the young left-back by United fans. Shaw was signed off the back of a wonderful season for Southampton, in which he was named in the PFA Team of the Year, which only heightened these expectations.

His strength and pace from full-back were enough to catch the eye of United, who swooped to sign him from under the noses of several top clubs who’d been closely monitoring his progress with the Saints. His first season with the reds was blighted somewhat by injury, as he only managed 20 appearances in all competitions.

However, Shaw returned at the beginning of the 2015/16 season with a clear focus on rediscovering the form which had brought him to United’s attention in the first place. He was putting in consistent performances at left-back, strong in defence and being a really threatening overlapping option for his left-winger. Sadly, Shaw’s bright start would be halted by another injury, this time far more severe.

In the opening Champions League group game against PSV, an aggressive run towards the Eindhoven box was halted by Hector Moreno’s tackle, which resulted in Shaw breaking his leg. He went through a long period of rehab and returned in April 2016. His frustrations having started the season so well were clear to see, saying:

“I have missed football so much. It was hard for me to watch it at times because I just wanted to be out there playing so badly.”

Shaw appeared to be very much a part of Louis van Gaal’s plans, but the Dutchman was replaced by Jose Mourinho at the end of the 2015/16 campaign. Since then, Shaw has struggled with other injuries, but Jose Mourinho has also brought Shaw’s mental character into question at times, which has led to rumours the 22-year-old may be set to leave Old Trafford this summer.

Mourinho has acknowledged on several occasions that Shaw has got an incredible amount of natural talent, but disputes over Shaw’s fitness and dedication saw him in and out of the side at the beginning of this season despite many of United’s fans feeling his performances warranted a regular starting place.

This feeling was eventually one shared by Mourinho, who gave Shaw a regular run of games in the middle of the season. Shaw put in some solid performances as Jose pondered who was the best player to have in the position, which led to some contemplating a potential place for Shaw in Gareth Southgate’s 2018 World Cup squad.

However, the unexpected revival of Ashley Young’s United career at left-back have once more seen Shaw relegated to the bench and at times he was not even in the matchday squad. Perhaps the lowest point this season for him came in the FA Cup game against Brighton when he was hauled off at half-time for the veteran Young. Following the game, Mourinho launched into what may have been a warranted rant which questioned his players’ desire, but Shaw himself did not seem to be playing particularly badly.

Young did not play much better than Shaw had in the first-half, and many have come to Shaw’s defence since, suggesting Mourinho’s tough approach for the young full-back has gone too far. Arguably, this is true. His hard-line approach seemed to have had a positive impact initially, but singling Shaw out despite relatively good performances seems a step too far.

Shaw may still have a future at United though. In the penultimate game of the season against West Ham United, Shaw returned to the starting XI and had one of his finer games in a United shirt, hitting the post in the 0-0 stalemate. Mourinho praised his side after the game, particularly the fight and passion they showed to confirm their second-place finish. Given that Shaw’s mentality has been questioned in the past, this probably came as a big boost for the left-back.

It’s unlikely he will be in Southgate’s squad come the summer, but at 22 Shaw still has a long career ahead of him and he will be hoping to show Mourinho that his future lies with United on the pre-season tour. He needs to seize the opportunity, as he has all the necessary attributes to be United and England’s first-choice left-back for years to come.

Written by Rob Potter

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