Despite Manchester United having signed a left-back in the former Porto player Alex Telles, Luke Shaw’s season is going from strength to strength, reaching perhaps the best level of his still-young career. But that is not the only thing worth pointing out: it can also serve as a reminder that players’ development is not a straight line and we should remember that.
It has been said time and time again that football is a ruthless sport and that is fundamentally true. Whether it’s a club’s owners, the coaching staff, your teammates or the supporters, a bad season, a bad month, a bad game, a bad play, can define your career for the worse. And there are very few windows of opportunity to chance the tide to your favor. Luke Shaw has gone through an experience of that ilk in his time at Manchester United. After being signed in 2014 from Southampton as the world’s most expensive teenager, there was a lot of adaption, but that first year was filled with injuries and struggling to adapt to an inconsistent Louis van Gaal team.
In the next season, Luke Shaw started with flying colors, but an awful injury against PSV meant that his entire season was scrapped due to recovery and that has had ramifications, affecting and changing his playing time. Then Jose Mourinho came into town and never rated Shaw, with the Englishman only playing 38 games in his first two seasons under the Portuguese’s guidance, that’s one league season spread in two years. All of this led to fans being quite critical of Luke Shaw, to the point that most people saw him, at 23 years old, as a failed promise that was never going to live up to his potential and that he was better off leaving the club and Manchester United signing a new left-back. Then Ole Gunnar Solskjær rolled into town.
The Norwegian made Luke Shaw his starting left-back and he has been one of his most consistent performances since the former’s arrival in December of 2018. But Shaw has always been injury prone and not having a reliable backup took a toll on his fitness, often being ran into the ground while also affecting his performances. So when Alex Telles was signed last summer, the general perception was that the Brazilian was going to take Shaw’s spot, but that hasn’t been the case. Far from it. In fact, Luke Shaw, now having a reliable backup (Alex Telles is not only decent, but his injury record is rock solid, only getting one injury in his last two years at Porto), has been producing the best football of his career.
This has been topped by a Man of the Match performance against Liverpool at Anfield in the last weekend, shutting Mohamed Salah down and being a creative and active outlet on the left for the Red Devils. He looked sharp, energetic and disciplined, which were all things that a lot of people, Jose Mourinho included, never saw in him. Football is a very unforgiving and harsh world, but it’s always great to see young players like Luke Shaw (he’s still only 25 years old) having a redemption arc after such difficulties in his career.