Luke Shaw was touted as a star in the making from a young age. At 15, he was regular in Southampton’s Under 18 side, at 16 he made his debut for the Saints in a FA Cup match against Millwall, and at 18 he made his debut for the England senior side. The following summer Manchester United paid £30million for the player.
For anyone this would be a lot to handle in such a short space of time, but on top of that, only a year into his United career, Shaw broke his leg in a Europa League match against PSV, sidelining him for seven months.
Despite the long injury layoff he has managed over 100 matches in senior football, mostly at the top level in the Premier League so it seems from many fans’ perspective he should be performing to a much higher standard than he is currently.
Shaw’s performance against Wigan on Sunday was again criticised by some fans, and it seems that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is also one of those critics. After the club’s 3-1 defeat against Watford back in September, the United boss laid into the player for his poor defensive lapses.
The Portuguese manager is not necessarily one for patience with some young players but I think it may be worth persevering with the left back for a few reasons. For one, Shaw’s match sharpness is nowhere near its highest level. Considering his recovery from a broken leg, it does a long time to recover past levels of performance. Once you also add in the fact that he has been troubled with a groin strain for a large part of this campaign, a certain amount of slack probably should be given.
It could be said however that even after a full pre-season behind him, Shaw’s performances earlier in the campaign were certainly nowhere near the standard required to play for United. You also have to keep in mind though that Shaw is still only 21. He may have a century of matches under his belt at senior level but full backs do tend to take longer to mature than in other positions.
If you look at other English full backs such as Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand, you see how full backs can really struggle early in their careers. Bertrand especially spent seven spells over eight seasons before he became a first team regular at Southampton at the age of 24. With Walker, it was slightly less extreme. He made his breakthrough into the first team squad at the age of 21, after loan spells at Sheffield United, Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa.
You need time to learn the position, but at Manchester United that can be easier said than done. Certain levels need to be maintained to keep your place in the side, and Mourinho is under pressure himself to continue getting results.
£30million is a big price tag to live up to, but in the context of the player’s injury record, and the challenges of mastering the job of a modern day full back, it may better for United to persist with Shaw a little while longer to see if he can pick up his form and develop into the type of player many expected.
He may have to do that by starting just in cup competitions for now, but there is a player in Shaw well worth the trouble. Whether Mourinho sees it that way, it remains to be seen but Mourinho’s use of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial plus to a much lesser extent Tim Fosu-Mensah has shown that the Portuguese manager is willing to work with youngsters and rely on some while integrating and “blooding” others into his first team when the fixtures allow. On Sunday Mourinho even gave the extremely highly thought of central defender or sometimes central midfielder Axel Tuanzebe his first team debut with Man United as the young Democratic Republic of Congo/British citizen was sent on to replace the injured Fosu-Mensah. Former boss Louis vs Gaal included Tuanzebe in a couple of his 1st team squads last season but never played him. According to Academy Chief Nicky Butt, Tuanzebe is a calm talker with excellent pace who reads the game so well he need not make sliding tackles. As M.E.N. reported former United youth team coach Paul McGuinness said this about Tuanzebe:
“It was the first time I’d picked a first-year scholar as captain. I don’t think that has happened since Gary Neville was youth-team skipper. Axel did a very good job – on and off the field.”
So it seems like since moving into his mid-fifties (Jose turned 54 last Thursday) the United manager is getting more willing to use and work with youngsters or is it also that the quality of the prospects he is working with and surrounded by at United is a serious improvement over the youth he has had under him at former clubs. Whatever the reason, it seems as though Mourinho is starting to get the best out of all facets of his United squad from the youth (Axel Tuanzebe) to the veterans (Bastian Schweinsteiger) to former “problem” players like Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini who did not fit his mold before. The chances are it’s a bit of everything but Jose Mourinho certainly seems to be getting the United team to all be pulling in the right direction now and the attitude of the squad is inclusive, positive and unselfish which certainly bodes well for the rest of this season and years to come.