On 15 September 2015, Luke Shaw was on the receiving end of a tackle so bad he was in danger of having his leg amputated. Shaw didn’t reveal that until three years later when he returned to the England squad, such was the traumatic experience in Amsterdam that evening.
PSV Eindhoven defender Hector Moreno couldn’t have timed his tackle any worse – he caught the onrushing Shaw and, in a second, his career was in doubt.
“No one knows but I was really close to actually losing my leg. I never knew that until six months later when the doctor told me,” Shaw recalled in 2018.
It was his final appearance for the club that season and the last under Louis van Gaal, who had brought him to the club. In truth, the 12 months preceding the incident were difficult too. Van Gaal had ridiculed Shaw publicly for his fitness and forced the defender, only 19 at the time, to train alone during pre-season preparations.
But Shaw had started the next season on the front foot. He took Adnan Januzaj and a personal trainer with him on vacation to Dubai and concentrated on starting the 2015/16 campaign as the first-choice left-back.
And so he did. Shaw was brilliant in the opening five Premier League games of the season. Fearless, quick, productive, and mature. All of the things you would normally associate with a ready-made defender 10 years his older. But he was doing it at the tender age of 19.
A year later, after gruesome recovery sessions and what can only be imagined as a challenging time for a teenager, it was Jose Mourinho who had been given the task to turn the club around. Only later would Ed Woodward find out the former Chelsea manager had been sacked by Roman Abramovich twice for a reason.
Shaw struggled to impress Jose Mourinho for much of the 2016/17 season, which is understandable considering the circumstances. But in March that season, the Portuguese manager would send his first public jibe Shaw’s way.
“He (Shaw) was in front of me and I was making every decision for him. He has to change his football brain. We need his fantastic physical and technical qualities, but he cannot continue to play with my brain,” Mourinho said after Shaw had a positive impact off the bench.
A year later, with foul play still ongoing behind the scenes, Mourinho would publicly dig Shaw out again: “I cannot compare the way he trains (with team-mates), the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. He is a long way behind.”
Perhaps down to not having a professional playing career himself, or just pure ignorance, Mourinho didn’t seem to realise that recovering from a leg break as bad as his as a teenager and public bullying wasn’t going to be straightforward. There was no playbook or manual guiding Shaw through Mourinho’s red mist.
Shaw remained silent publicly about their relationship during their time together at the club but Stretty News understands that Mourinho’s comments were just the tip of the iceberg. It was far more volatile in private.
Shaw outlasted Mourinho at Old Trafford and his resurgence didn’t begin right away but it didn’t take long for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s extended arm to strike a chord with the former Southampton prodigy.
Another year passed under Solskjaer before we started to see the real Shaw – the fearless 19-year-old who had made it his mission to prove Van Gaal wrong in 2015.
OGS deserves praise for handling of Luke Shaw. Player is clearly producing but is responding to trust of a manager.
— Simon Stone (@sistoney67) July 3, 2021
It wasn’t until January 2020 to be precise. Shaw had recovered from a hamstring injury that kept him out of action for three months and was ready to welcome his first child into the world.
Solskjaer experimented with a three-at-the-back formation at the time and decided to deploy Shaw as a left-sided centre-back – a position he had never played before. And he did it to near perfection.
There was a sense of maturity and authority with every touch, confidence growing every week, accountability, and accepting responsibilities when, two or three years prior, he might’ve shied away from it.
Alex Telles is often mentioned in any conversation surrounding Luke Shaw’s return to form but in truth, he has little to do with it. As mentioned, it began far earlier than Manchester United’s interest in the Brazilian defender.
Shaw was devastating in the 2020/21 season, earning himself a place in the PFA, LWA, and Premier League Team of the Year as well as two call-ups by Gareth Southgate, which includes his final 26-man squad for this summer’s European Championship.
And it was on the biggest stage that Luke Shaw announced himself as not only the world-class talent Manchester United invested £27m in but also the world-class, ready-made player he is today. Jose Mourinho couldn’t keep himself from criticising Shaw again in his analysis of England but it is widely accepted that anything he says on Shaw today is blighted with bitterness.
Is he offended by Shaw’s resilience? Is he not inspired by his ability to look his bully in the eye and say ‘You can’t tell me I’m not good enough’?
Jose Mourinho was once the pinnacle of football managers, the man everyone else dreamt of replicating. But his failure to capture Shaw’s talent, and rock-hard mentality, is the latest reminder that the suave, quirky man who ran the length of Old Trafford in 2004 is long gone. What remains is a bitter and vindictive man who can’t stand the sight of his punching bag rising over him.