Luke Shaw fitness gives Jose Mourinho plenty to ponder on Manchester United preseason 2018 tour of US
Old Trafford club have been here before with the 23-year-old, but ripped left back is shaping up nicely to tackle what could be his last chance to shine
If there’s a tiny silver lining for Manchester United’s Luke Shaw missing out on England’s World Cup run to the semi-finals, it’s that the 23-year-old will get another chance to show he’s United quality on the club’s American preseason tour which starts on Thursday.
It’ll be tough – the temperature is predicted to be 39 degrees Celsius for the match against Mexican side Club America in Arizona.
We’ve been here every season with Shaw, but such is United’s determination to make a success of an undoubtedly talented player, he keeps getting chances.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When England ignominiously exited the World Cup finals four years ago in Brazil, the left back position wasn’t one which appeared set to change.
Shaw, then 19 and at Southampton, made his debut two months before the 2014 finals having impressed for his club and Gareth Southgate’s under-21 side.
He played in a draw against Costa Rica and moved to United that summer when he became the most expensive teenager in world football. A long stint for club and country beckoned.
It didn’t go to plan. Be it because of attitude or horrific injuries, it was no surprise when he wasn’t selected for the England squad in Russia.
That his United teammate Ashley Young, 33, played in Shaw’s position, shows football’s ability to do the unexpected.
Though Young has taken his position at Old Trafford, Shaw could look to him as an inspiration as he tries to win his place back from him.
The 33-year-old Young was castigated even by his own fans for diving, yet tweaked his game, worked hard and got his breaks.
He showed the character expected of a United player, something Shaw has struggled to convince consecutive managers he has.
United want Shaw to succeed. The club’s leading executive Ed Woodward put in a lot of effort to beat Chelsea, who Shaw supported as a child, to his signature in 2014, yet Shaw’s attitude and tardiness was publicly questioned by boss Louis van Gaal within weeks of him arriving.
Shaw admitted some faults and that he hadn’t properly grasped the size of United.
Shaw came back the following preseason sharp after private fitness sessions in Dubai, and started 2015-16 well before suffering a serious injury at PSV Eindhoven.
He’s since suffered others, but the concerns about him go further than injuries.
Jose Mourinho has publicly admonished Shaw, and his body language and gestures when he watches him shows a man less than satisfied with what he sees.
Quickly-deleted tweets by Shaw’s siblings illustrated that they considered Mourinho harsh, but Shaw is not the only player with whom Mourinho has crossed swords.
United have watched other left backs including Juventus’ Brazilian Alex Sandro, a player who has long wanted to play at Old Trafford, but the Italian giants are reluctant to let him go and would demand a fee of US$85 million.
United don’t want to get into another summer of wholesale transfers, a policy which has created instability and not yielded significant results in previous seasons with Woodward at the helm.
The club are already smarter with their sales and made a profit on Daley Blind, who joined Ajax this week, plus US$8.5 million, potentially rising to US$10 million, for fourth choice goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.
With Young enjoying a well-earned break after his exertions in Russia, it’s Shaw who is set to get chances as a United side missing many of their star players including World Cup winner Paul Pogba play San Jose Earthquakes, AC Milan, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich preseason.
A month after paparazzi photos showed him appearing overweight, Shaw has done another pre-preseason and now looks lean.
He’s been training very well at United’s UCLA base, he’s determined and hopes to give the positive signs that Mourinho is looking for, but we’ve been here before.
Shaw, who has a contract until 2019, has had more chances than most. He feels that he’s been very unfortunate with injuries and hasn’t always agreed with his managers, but he must take a share of the responsibility for his failings.
United fans would love him to come good, to play as left back for the next decade, but his mentality has needed to harden to become that of a winner. He’s not alone at his club in that respect.
Those know him well describe him as a talented and pleasant, if occasionally absent minded, individual, yet Shaw’s family is one of the few of the current squad who follow United everywhere, even when their son doesn’t play.
In 2019, Shaw could leave United for free, a situation United are anxious to avoid, but he needs to earn any new contract. Before that, he needs to find happiness at United and to become the valued regular he was bought to be, not sitting on the bench.
Mourinho asked to be judged after three years at United. He’s now in his third season, while Shaw is in his fifth without ever fully establishing himself as a United player.
United finished last season poorly and must start this one brightly, even though Mourinho must do that without his players who reached the latter stages of the World Cup – he wants every player to have three weeks’ holiday.
United fans have been underwhelmed by the club’s summer transfer activity so far, but the team can improve vastly by getting more from the significant number of underachievers at Old Trafford, starting with Shaw, who has a chance to rise again in Phoenix.