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It has been a long, meandering journey for Luke Shaw to gain the trust of Manchester United boss José Mourinho. Ever since his double fracture on his right leg against PSV Eindhoven in 2015, under Louis van Gaal, Shaw’s rise back to the top has been one of patience and persistence.
When Shaw signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2014, there was a great sense of optimism with what could happen over the course of the next decade. Van Gaal had just taken over and brought in some very exciting blood to the team, succeeding the position from an incredibly lacklustre and lifeless David Moyes.
Coming off the 2013/14 season with Southampton, Shaw had played in 35 of the 38 Premier League matches available. The then 18-year-old had stamped his authority on the South Coast and been garnering attention from around Europe. The young Englishman was one of the Premier League’s finest left backs in that season, allowing himself to have plenty of options on the table for his next move. Mourinho, at that time acting as Chelsea manager, desperately wanted to sign him, but was beaten by Manchester United and the higher wages offered.
In his first season as a Red Devil, Shaw struggled for consistency. He has openly said how the lifestyle change from Southampton to Manchester United was bigger than what he had expected, with his new club and teammates expecting a lot more from him. His bad habits, such as drinking carbonated drinks and a careless diet, were picked upon straight away.
There were glimpses of what Shaw could offer, but time and patience was needed with him, given he was only 19-years-old and most certainly one to grow into his role at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Shaw decided to take time away in Dubai in the summer of 2015, making sure he was ready for United’s pre-season tour for the upcoming year. This initiative off his own back told the club’s coaches that he was serious and Shaw reaped the rewards by being fit and healthy ready for what was thrown his way.
The former Saints full-back had played every single minute of the new season under LvG, having completed five full 90-minute matches in the Premier League, as well as two against Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifying stages. Shaw looked full of energy, enthusiasm and purpose as his marauding runs were on full show – one of the main reasons as to why he was signed in the first place. United’s left back problems looked all but over until one night in Eindhoven that left him in pieces.
After a horrific injury in United’s first group stage game of their Champions League campaign, Shaw was ruled out for the rest of the season and did not make another appearance until August 2016, when Mourinho was in charge. Speaking candidly to the media ahead of England’s two international games, Shaw said, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about stopping playing.
“No-one knows but I was really close to actually losing my leg. I never knew that until six months later when the doctor told me.
“At the time, they were thinking about flying me back and if I’d have flown back, I would probably have lost my leg because of the blood clots and stuff.”
Such was the seriousness of his injury, it is no wonder that in Mourinho’s first year in charge, Shaw was hesitant in diving straight back in, full guns blazing. There is a mental side of an injury that football fans can easily bypass. Only because you are physically fit and healthy once again, does not mean that you can perform to the same standard right away; there is always going to be trepidation going in for 50-50 challenges when you have been through a potentially career-ending injury. It was only natural that it was going to take time for Shaw to come through the mental abyss and to a new state of contentment.
After some incredibly tough love – which some suggest went too far from Mourinho last season – Shaw has come out the other side. In Man United’s opening four games, Shaw has featured, at left back, in every single one of them. He hasn’t achieved that since his injury. Not only is he on the pitch and in good condition, but he looks far more confident than he did 12 months prior. His swagger and attacking presence has returned, which showed when he scored his first ever professional goal on the opening night of the Premier League season.
What has put the icing on a very good month for the 23-year-old was having been recalled to the England squad, this time under Gareth Southgate, his former U21 manager. Having not featured for England since March 2017, where he was given seven minutes against Germany, Shaw is coming into this international break in high spirits, playing some of his best ever football. The United full-back will have some great competition in the squad, but being back in the fold of the national set-up will fill him with great confidence.
Unfortunately, Shaw suffered concussion in England’s Nations League game against Spain – although it looked worrying at first, the injury is not thought to be as serious as initially thought.
There is a long season ahead for Shaw and Manchester United, but Mourinho will be delighted that he has a left back that he can now rely on. It might still be early stages, and consistency counts for a large part in the football world, but Shaw’s new lease for life has been a tale that will act as a reminder to players to not give up. It might have taken Shaw longer than he had wanted to get back to where he wanted to be, but his persistence, patience and diligence has paid off.
Shaw was destined for big things in football at such an early age, and with his injuries hopefully fully behind him, he can go on to fulfil that destiny.