In July 2015, a few hours after Manchester United beat Barcelona 3-1 on their pre-season tour of the United States, Louis van Gaal was sitting in a hotel room in Santa Clara and declared it “Luke Shaw’s Year”.
It took longer than expected, but the Dutchman’s prediction will come true. As one of Manchester United’s top players this season and recently named to the England squad, the 2020-21 season has been Shaw’s year so far. He was able to round it off with a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European Championship this summer and a first trophy of his professional career.
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United won during his stint at Old Trafford, but it’s testament to Shaw’s struggles since Van Gaal’s bold testimony nearly six years ago that they won the 2016 FA Cup, 2017 League Cup and Europa League later in the same season wasn’t even a substitute. Should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team reach the Europa League final in Gdansk, Poland on May 26th, Shaw’s name would be one of the first on the team’s sheet.
Injuries have played a prominent role in Shaw’s stop-start career, and only recently have questions about the terrible broken leg he suffered in September 2015 – just weeks after Van Gaal’s confident support – stopped. However, United staff also recall that Shaw experienced culture shock when he left Southampton with a £ 30million move to United in the summer of 2014, making him the most expensive teenager in the world.
The pre-transfer background checks did not reveal anything material about his lifestyle during his trip through the Academy at St Mary’s and his brief stint on the Southampton first team. However, the focus at United has been on how to get the most out of his body. It covers everything from cutting down on carbonated drinks to getting the benefits of a full night’s sleep.
Shaw’s mental strength was also tested. There were times under previous manager Jose Mourinho when Shaw left practice on a Friday and was concerned about what the Portuguese coach might say at his weekly press conference later that afternoon. The rest of the senior team were also often confused about why Mourinho seemed to reprimand Shaw so often. He was once reprimanded for speaking to opponents after a bad-tempered draw with Bournemouth. Second, he was accused of occupying the wrong positions after being sent off at halftime in a 2-0 win over Brighton. The quarter-finals of the FA Cup in March 2018 were one of its deepest lows.
At certain points during Mourinho’s reign there were doubts about Shaw’s future, but sources have told ESPN that the defense attorney never asked to leave and would only have considered an exit if he’d been told in person there was no room for The group was there.
Shaw’s determination to earn a spot at United included bringing a personal trainer to Dubai on his vacation. He spent part of that vacation in 2018 running on the beach in the morning and doing intense core workouts in the evening. Mourinho sent a WhatsApp message halfway through the trip to let Shaw know how impressed he was with his commitment. Shaw was on his phone when the message came in, fearing Mourinho would think he was “weird” for opening it so quickly.
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Shaw has felt more comfortable under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Norwegian’s faith has been repaid. Solskjaer told Shaw in one of their first one-on-one meetings that he would be a key player because he wanted his full-backs to attack.
Shaw has been licensed to move forward and for the past two years has spent hours at the Carrington training grounds working on his crossing. It worked; He has already registered five assists in the Premier League this season. West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell and Everton’s Lucas Digne are the only defenders with more, and competition from Alex Telles, who signed this summer, has also taken him to a new level of consistency.
Outside the field, those closest to him say Shaw has matured since he first became a father in November 2019.
Shaw hasn’t played for England since 2018 and there have been times when Southgate and assistant Steve Holland have been frustrated by his lack of availability, either because he was injured before an international break or because he was eliminated from the squad after being selected. United employees say it is now tougher and more durable. After taking on a tough challenge in the early stages of the Crystal Palace draw on March 3, there were fears on the United bench that he would be bailed out. Not only did he play through the pain to win the man of the match prize, but he was also available for the next game – the 2-0 win at Manchester City. He also scored the second goal that day after a powerful run that started in his own half.
At just 18, Shaw was named to the Premier League team of the year in 2014 and joined the English World Cup squad a few months later. Almost seven years later, he has struggled to be named the best left-back in the league again and to compete in the European Championship this summer.
It may have been a few years longer than Van Gaal projected, but Luke Shaw’s year is finally here.