The curious case of Luke Shaw

Despite blaming Erik ten Hag, Manchester United’s medical staff and himself for his longstanding hamstring injury which has kept him out of action since February, Luke Shaw still managed to convince Gareth Southgate he could play in Euro 2024.

As the group games come to an end, Shaw is yet to feature for England and recent reports suggest there is the possibility of game time in the knockout stages.

There is no doubting Shaw’s quality, particularly in possession and going forward, but it seems England’s left-back issues are similar to United’s when we consider viable alternatives for both teams. Southgate has opted for Kieran Trippier as cover for Shaw, overlooking natural left-backs like Ben Chilwell and Tyrick Mitchell which would have provided more balance and an attacking outlet on that side.

Similarly United, as a result of Shaw’s absence, spent much of last season also playing right backs on the left-hand side, Dalot, Lindelof and Wan-Bissaka all featured as Malacia spent the majority of the season injured and Alvaro Fernandez was loaned to Granada and then Benfica. Even Amrabat and Antony covered at left back during the season. Both United and Southgate have failed miserably in identifying adequate cover and competition in the left-back position and as a result, Shaw’s importance and ability has become over exaggerated in recent years. In reality, left-back has been a problem position for United since Patrice Evra left the club in 2014, just as Shaw arrived.

This month marks 10 years at United for Shaw having signed from Southampton in June, 2014 for €37.5m. In that time he has amassed only 275 appearances and 4 goals in all competitions. Only in three seasons has he made 25 appearance or more in the Premier League in his time at Old Trafford. In that time there has been little or no competition to challenge Shaw for his position. In comparison, it took Mikael Silvestre two years to succeed club legend Denis Irwin and when he did he had stiff competition from Phil Neville, John O’ Shea and eventually Patrice Evra. What a wealth of talent and experience we had back then, special times when the board and manager worked effectively to recruit and identify succession plans to keep the team strong and not allow players feel comfortable when wearing a United shirt. Back then you couldn’t get comfortable there was always someone within the squad vying for a place in the team, while Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill plotted how to strengthen through the transfer market or youth system.

Despite his best football coming in the 2022/23 season, Shaw even at his best has been guilty of lapses of concentration at the back post and is vulnerable in the air. O’Shea, Silvestre and Neville were very much squad or utility players for much of their United careers and still managed similar appearances in comparison to Shaw who has remained firmly in the comfort zone as the only left back at the club for the last 10 years.

O’Shea played 256 games in 12 seasons, Silvestre 249 games in 9 seasons and Neville managed 263 appearances in 11 seasons. Shaw is soon to be 29-years-old, some may argue he still has three or four good years left in him, but how much of that will be spent on the treatment table. Some would argue Shaw played his best football for United when Malacia signed in 2022. Maybe he needs that competition to get the very best out of himself? With wages of £150,000 per week, a questionable attitude and a terrible injury record seeing him miss 264 games for club and country since 2014, let’s hope INEOS are prioritising suitable left back options for the season ahead. Shaw, through no fault of his own, represents the neglect that has ravaged Manchester United for well over a decade.

Let’s hope this summer signals the beginning of United showing “the best in class” in terms of shrewd business, effective scouting and recruitment systems to support Erik Ten Haag. After last season he is going to need it to survive at Old Trafford.

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