Luke Shaw has the chance to stop wasting his career as he threatens to establish himself as England’s best left-back and a reliable option for Manchester United.
At Old Trafford Shaw has benefited from the club’s sustained and profound transfer incompetence. Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young were hardly brilliant options for Shaw’s various managers, and so he appeared to stay in contention out of default rather than really earning his place.
This summer the club finally secured an experienced alternative in Alex Telles from Porto, and that competition seems to have spurred Shaw on to commit to his career. Shaw’s frame appears to still be bizarrely engorged for a professional footballer, but his improved match fitness and injury record suggests that there has been some kind of nutritional improvement somewhere.
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In the past there were hints that his lifestyle was holding him back. Shaw talked fondly of Mauricio Pochettino making him smoothies at Southampton, apparently without clocking that his manager was hinting to him that vitamins and minerals exist, and he might like to make use of them. There was criticism from Louis van Gaal, Roy Hodgson and Jose Mourinho over his physical conditioning, and at no point did it appear that he was ever going to take that advice on board.
Mourinho even went so far as to say that Shaw was only playing well if he followed the manager’s instructions from the sidelines. That chimes with a player who has only rarely given an impression that he is able to learn. After all, if you can't learn to control your diet as a professional, learning the tactical side of the game is likely to be tough, as well.
That lack of commitment was hinted at by Shaw ahead of the game with Poland, when he said that he had, “pulled out of a lot of camps” in the past two years.
Luke Shaw and Jose Mourinho
Image credit: Getty Images
"Personally I massively regretted doing that," he said.
"I think playing for your country is a massive privilege and an honour and I think at times I took advantage of that.
"I didn't really think about it too much but of course now I just want to forget the mistakes I've made in the past, and Gareth's done that, so we're just focusing on the future and obviously what's happening now."
Southgate too has recognised a change.
"He's been very good," Southgate attested.
"There's never been any doubt in our mind about Luke's quality
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"He has obviously suffered from injuries and had to withdraw from a few squads but it has been great to see him playing on the front foot as a full-back with his defending and he's been really ambitious with his attacking. He looks like he's in good condition to drive forward, he's got excellent quality with the ball and it's a good moment for him.
"He's aggressive against his wingers, he's difficult to play against one-v-one, he's getting better with his cover defending for his centre-backs."
Improvement for Shaw has been slow, and his best football was interrupted for United when he suffered a grim knee injury under Van Gaal, but the best professional would have used that time away to slim down through other means and study the tactical side of the game. It appears now that he has a contract close to renewal at United - he only has two years left on his current deal - he has knuckled down. While the improvement can't be denied, the reasons for his hard work still cause doubt.
Nonetheless, with more experience in Europe than Ben Chilwell, and plenty of miles on the clock, Shaw has the chance to demonstrate that he is England’s best left-back. The talent and potential was always there, and now he must demonstrate that the discipline and determination are finally going to be shown.
For club and country a strong Shaw is already dangerous in attack, a counter-attacking outlet who can move the ball at pace. Were he to improve his technical ability and defensive awareness, he might be able to spur both his sides on to win a trophy or two in the coming years. If not, there are now alternatives ready to step in and take his chance for him.
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