Luke Shaw’s career is at a crossroads, and not for the first time.
The left-back has been in and out of Man United’s first-team this season, and he’s once again struggled to enjoy a run of games through injury.
It’s something that has become a running theme during his time at Old Trafford.
He missed 16 matches across all competitions between August and November with a thigh problem, and he hasn’t played since United’s defeat to Arsenal on New Year’s Day because of a ‘tight hamstring’.
And now with the emergence of 19-year-old Brandon Williams, Shaw is facing a stern test just to get back into the starting line-up.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When United made him the world’s most expensive teenager in the summer of 2014, Shaw was viewed as the club’s undisputed starting left-back for the next decade.
He was also there to replace Patrice Evra; someone who’d won countless honours over the years and was widely regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever fullbacks.
Unsurprisingly, Shaw’s price tag seemed to hang over him like a shadow throughout his debut campaign, while United struggled with their colossal transition under Louis van Gaal.
Problems quickly arose between Shaw and the manager.
In pre-season, just after the 18-year-old had returned from the World Cup but nearly a month before the 2014/15 campaign began, Van Gaal criticised Shaw’s fitness and attitude.
Concerned, the Dutchman forced his new signing to train by himself and focus on getting into shape.
Years later, we now know that this is just one instance in a catalogue of moments, from youth level, international and club, where Shaw’s attitude towards training has been called into question.
Shaw is perhaps the poster boy for what is wrong with the mentality of young English footballers.
Like many before him, he was built up to extreme heights by fans, the media and his managers, only to be broken down when he failed to live up to expectations.
Roy Hodgson picked him for his World Cup squad in 2014 in place of the ageing Ashley Cole, making him the youngest player to feature in the tournament in Brazil.
When he was called up, Shaw commented at the time on how it felt ‘weird’ to be replacing Cole, who was a player he described as his ‘idol’.
Even when question marks began to hover over him just a year after his England debut, Hodgson was adamant that Shaw would be the player to replace Cole in the national team for years to come.
A daunting prospect for such a young player.
“He’s still only 20 and if he keeps going then he’s on track to be another Ashley Cole, a 100 cap man. I would advise him to study Ashley Cole, look at what Ashley did for England and set my sights on the same thing,” the England manager told talkSPORT at the time.
Then, of course, he suffered a horrific leg break that threatened to end his career.
In a Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven in 2015, he was the victim of a medieval tackle by Hector Moreno, which left Shaw, then just 21, with a double fracture of his right leg.
In an interview in 2018, Shaw admitted he almost lost his leg as a result of complications from the injury, and he even contemplated retirement during the gruelling recovery period that saw him miss nearly a year of football.
“After the leg break it was a very tough time,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sometimes thought about stopping playing football.”
Having overcome so much over a number of years, Shaw finally looked to be going in the right direction last season when he enjoyed a spectacular run in United’s team.
His hard work even saw him crowned the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for 2018/19, along with United’s Players’ Player of the Year.
This came just a year after he was controversially scapegoated by Jose Mourinho, with many of Shaw’s teammates claiming the Portuguese manager ‘bullied’ Shaw in front of them and berated him from the touchline.
Beyond anything else, his will and ability to overcome adversity is commendable, and few players have suffered more highs and lows as Shaw.
But in many ways, it feels as though Shaw’s United career was doomed from the very beginning.
Having been compared to England’s greatest ever left-back at such a young age, he’s then struggled against the rising tide of dissatisfied managers and injury after injury after injury.
He’ll find competing with Williams to be tough this season, but he’s more than equipped to do so.
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