Shaw could become England’s first choice left back
Nobody in Gareth Southgate’s 25-man England squad will be more motivated this week than Manchester United defender Luke Shaw. His noticeable lack of opportunities under Jose Mourinho has made him even more determined to show the form that saw him tipped three years ago to succeed Ashley Cole as the best left back in the world.
It’s a huge sign of faith by Southgate to even include 21-year-old Shaw in his squad and he could win his seventh international cap against Germany on Wednesday night.
The England manager is usually reluctant to call upon players who have been kept on the sidelines by their clubs, and Shaw has made just seven Premier League starts this season, his only one in 2017 seeing him substituted against Bournemouth. He was an unused substitute against Middlesbrough on Sunday.
Yet Southgate, who knows Shaw well from his Under-21 days, still believes the former Southampton defender could be his first-choice left back in Russia next year and this is a time to raise his morale, something that has undoubtedly suffered at Old Trafford.
Having recovered from a horrendous broken leg that kept him out for the majority of last season, recent evidence suggests Shaw has not convinced Mourinho to trust him in a United shirt, even though the manager tried to be encouraging last month.
‘He has had a really ugly injury that affects players not only from the physical point but also the mental impact,’ said the United manager.
‘He knows that I like stability in a defender, that I don’t like mistakes. Sometimes people forget he is only a young boy with a lot to learn but I like the player and I like the boy.’
Shaw, England’s youngest player at the last World Cup ahead of a £27million move to United, can’t be blamed for any confusion by the mixed messages coming from Mourinho.
Certainly, his reputation is that of an attacking left back rather than the conservative types preferred by the United boss, but he has been very sparingly used this season, mostly in cup ties.
Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, neither world-class left backs, are clearly above him in the pecking order.
Shaw hasn’t been in a winning Premier League game since August and was left out of the 18 in United’s critical Europa League last-16 tie against Rostov last week, meaning when Daley Blind went off, Phil Jones had to deputise in an unfamiliar position.
Shaw, whose target has always been to prove himself as a regular at United, now accepts the decision about his future is effectively in Mourinho’s hands rather than his own.
But as yet there has been no firm indication from the club that they’ve given up on him and are touting his name for a summer sale, meaning Shaw can do himself a lot of good by training and playing well in the England set-up.
The first thing Southgate, and Mourinho, will be looking for is that the player still has confidence in his own ability, is prepared to work hard, and if he gets minutes on the pitch in Germany, to show intent in both the attacking and defensive side of his game.
Cole was also regarded as better at going forward than backwards early in his career until he developed into the all-round full back, ironically spending part of his development under Mourinho at Chelsea.
Mourinho also tried to sign Shaw in 2014 before the player chose United which indicates he must see some potential there.
But whereas Southgate is likely to be a little more carrot than stick – though all top managers appreciate their players need a tough streak in them – Mourinho tends to try and get the best out of his young players through tough love.
At the moment, it hasn’t been working for Shaw, but he’ll be aware he has already won over one United manager during his time at Old Trafford, and therefore has a chance to do so again.
United’s plans to sign Shaw were advanced before incoming manager Louis van Gaal gave his approval and then the Dutchman made him train on his own to build up his physical condition after the World Cup.
‘He needs to be fit and he is not very fit and fit enough to do what I want,’ said van Gaal.
But by the start of the following season, Shaw was excelling until the serious leg fracture against PSV that kept him out for 305 days.
Now, he has to prove himself all over again, this time Mourinho. Fortunately for him, he has an England manager who likes his ability, and is willing to give him a helpful push.
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