At the expense of Ashley Young’s three-match ban for an elbow shove against Southampton’s Dusan Tadic on December 31, Manchester United fans have seen more and more of left-back Luke Shaw. Joining forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan as potential January transfer exits from Old Trafford, the England international made his first 2017-2018 season start for the Red Devils in December, and has every reason to be pleased with his recent form. With José Mourinho’s desire to bring in another experienced and fit left-back, the United boss should delay that decision until June and instead opt to allow Shaw to further prosper with the first-team squad before selling him to a new home.
When United bought Shaw from Southampton in 2014, it was presumed he would serve as Manchester’s tenured left-back. At a fee of £30 million, Shaw became the world’s most expensive teenager, and naturally the price should match the player. Unfortunately for the now 22 year-old, injuries and internal disputes have burdened his growth with the club. Prior to the start of the 2014-2015 season, Shaw suffered a hamstring injury that would ultimately sideline him from the pitch for a month. Two months later, Shaw would again find himself back on the injury list for another month with an ankle sprain. As fate would have it, Shaw’s hamstring problems reappeared weeks later at the tail end of his debut season, paralyzing him again for another month.
As if his injury woes weren’t enough to put the youngster in a period of misery, Shaw faced scrutiny when manager José Mourinho first publicly criticized his athleticism following United’s victory against Swansea City in November 2016. While United secured three points, Mou questioned Shaw’s commitment to play under dire circumstances, acknowledging that many of the world’s best athletes have played when they’re not 100% fit. Last April, following a 1-1 draw against Everton, Mourinho once again chastised Shaw’s inability to play to his best potential, insisting that he was a long way behind fellow defenders Ashley Young, Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian.
Shaw’s relationship with Mourinho is not completely wrecked, however. Weekend reports revealed the two had a positive conversation at the team’s hotel. In order for Shaw to earn a spot on Mourinho’s starting XI, the manager asked Shaw to promise two things: 1. He is committed to his training, and 2. He would fix his negative demeanor. Even when he is in game-playing form, Shaw’s resistance to accept feedback has affected his playing time. Should Shaw neglect to follow Mourinho’s advice, it leaves the board no other choice than to move on once and for all.
Conflicting transfer reports have hinted that Shaw could be reunited with his former Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. Spurs have an extraordinary left-back of their own in Danny Rose, however he is also going through his fair share of injury grief, so I wonder why the Special One would want to switch one injury-prone defender for another. In theory, one would approve of bringing in an experienced athlete to strengthen United’s Champions League and FA Cup run; however, United has earned a formidable reputation for signing younger athletes and developing them into club legends. At 27 years old, taking a gamble on Rose (at a suggested £40 million) seems like a wasteful decision financially and strategically. There’s no denying Rose’s value, but waiting until June when he is able-bodied and has acquired more playing time to make a lucrative offer provides Shaw another opportunity to regain first-team status.
When fit, Luke Shaw is an incredible defender. He is a true left-back that shows confidence when playing against larger clubs. Despite United’s less-than-thrilling festive fixture results, Shaw was not only fun to watch, but looked comfortable on the pitch. At one point, he even came close to bagging one for the Red Devils. For United to sever ties with the fullback without a guarantee target suggests a more desperate move to steer him out of Old Trafford than to allow him to continue to perform at his healthiest in a long time.
There’s not much Shaw can do to prevent a left-back from coming to Manchester this year, but his commitment in accommodating to his manager’s instructions show considerable growth, adaptability and a desire to stay with the club. Regardless of where he ends up at the end of this month or the summer transfer window, United fans might be finally getting a taste of the 2014 Luke Shaw that could have been, and that might be enough to keep him in a red kit until the culmination of his contract.