Gary Neville, who knows a thing or two about being a full-back for Manchester United, reckoned seven months ago that Luke Shaw needed to:
“… knuckle down, take the challenge on and get to the point where he’s the fittest he’s ever been and with that hopefully the talent will shine through because he’s got incredible talent. It would be such a shame if it didn’t work for him at United with the talent he’s got.”
Shaw has contributed a total of 48 minutes this season for United over two games. An awkward three-minute appearance on Tuesday in Swansea was sobering, bluntly because of how big Shaw looked.
José Mourinho has, we’ll assume happily, taken the brunt of Shaw’s continued exclusion. Mourinho’s beef, as it were; half-expected to be chasing Shaw like he’s Üter Zörker without the accent. Similarly with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial coming back from a spell out of the side, Mourinho has assumed to be making an example of Shaw. Mourinho’s methods may focus on testing players but Shaw has been ostracised for longer than that would merit. The Bad Mourinho line just feels a bit lazy in this case. Watching Shaw carry himself like Anderson gives credence to a player labelled “a long way short” by his manager last season.
It is a shame, and would be a shame if Shaw never fulfils his promise for United, whatever the reason may be. Plucked from Southampton for a ripe fee, Shaw’s early season form in his second stint under Louis van Gaal sparkled – invigorating United’s attack as much as the defence – but was cruelly cut short before completing a run of half a dozen games with a horrendous injury in Europe. A year’s worth of development shattered in a double leg break. Terrible for any player, fans shared the frustration and compassion for a left-back they’d imagined at United suddenly delivering and then not.
Despite being young and English, sympathy is, like it or not, starting to run dry two years on. Van Gaal also questioned Shaw’s weight shortly after they both joined United in 2014. It’s stacking up for the 22-year-old, now into his fourth season.
Mourinho has probably given Shaw this season as his last chance at United. Many players would not be afforded such leeway but two United managers have thought it worthwhile. Fans are equally keen. Mourinho has made do with a patchwork of defenders who would all likely rather play somewhere else. In no particular order, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo have spent significant time keeping Shaw’s spot warm, even Ashley Young more commonly deployed there. Mourinho was warm towards Shaw’s chances in preseason 2016 and again talked up his opportunities at the start of this season. Neither has gone well, and it will be a remarkable turnaround if Shaw were to feature with any regularity before the summer.
Shaw appears to have briefed to the press since his inglorious cameo in the league cup this week – previously retaliating on social media working out at home smacked of attitude, this rather feels like planning for an exit.