Since Ashley Cole took semi-retirement in the MLS it is difficult to think of another full-back who has been under the spotlight more than Luke Shaw with so much of the coverage similarly mixed.
At first glance it is also difficult to ascertain why this might be. The 23 year old defender appears to be an unassuming type who by virtue of rarely giving interviews, possessing an entirely innocuous Twitter game, and furthermore as a player who shies from showboatery on the pitch – instead simply getting on with the job in hand to the best of his abilities – a player such as that should fly down the United left flank pretty much under the radar. Factor in too a perfectly logical and uncontroversial career trajectory that saw the boyhood Chelsea fan excel through Southampton’s academy, develop into one of the most promising teens in Britain, then secure a move to Manchester United and what you have is a talent who should only be mentioned in dispatches and match reports.
Yet even a courtesy trawl through the search engine of your choice reveals all manner of barbs and accusations ranging from persistent gossip surrounding his weight, to insinuations that he has a poor attitude, to the assertion that Shaw is over-rated given his transfer to Old Trafford was, at the time, a world record fee for a teenager. And all of that is just from his manager Jose Mourinho. Criticism elsewhere has sometimes been even crueler.
Defenders of the defender rightly point out amidst the array of negativity the atrocious injury that befell Shaw in Eindhoven back in September 2015. The player later revealed the breaks to his fibula and tibia were so severe the possibility of amputation was discussed and that he subsequently considered quitting football altogether so it naturally follows that his online champions applaud his bravery to return to the front-line of the professional game. More so, as pictures emerged of Shaw this summer voluntarily putting in the graft on holiday with a fitness coach it was greeted with a good dose of praise.
We should be circumspect in overly commending the latter as, frankly, a fit footballer playing at the highest level while accruing exorbitant wages is duty bound to be flat of chest but certainly the sickening setback endured in Holland – that came during a period when Shaw was shedding his price tag and establishing himself as a key performer under Van Gaal – is worthy of serious note. It doesn’t only take time to heal physically from such trauma but beyond that there are psychological scars that persist for much longer.
On his eventual return to action it was Shaw’s misfortune to be dealing with these concerns while now under the charge of Mourinho. Even by the admission of his staunchest acolytes Mourinho is hardly known for offering patience, tea and sympathy towards personnel unable to give him one hundred per cent and with the Portuguese coach also someone who habitually seeks out a scapegoat in his team in order to assert dressing room dominance the dots – in hindsight at least – could be joined together.
So it was that Luke Shaw found himself in and out of the United starting eleven for two long seasons, campaigns that were peppered with further injuries, and all the while castigated by the one person he could reasonably expect to have his back.
All of this makes it heartening to see Shaw attack this season with every attribute at his disposal. He has played 1400 minutes, finally putting the bed the notion that he is prone to absence, and on many occasions to the estimation of many has been one of United’s best performers. In an otherwise exasperating campaign for the Manchester behemoth he has unquestionably been a major plus and consequently last month Shaw was rewarded with the accepted offer of a lucrative new long-term deal.
So where are the jibes and negative mutterings now? Well, they are still there of course online only now we have to trawl through a few pages to reach them as they fade to the past tense and this Thursday the left-back returns to the England fold after being selected by Gareth Southgate, a manager who does have his back and who does clearly rate him.
Let us hope that he excels because when all things are weighed up he sure as hell deserves to.
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