Luke Shaw put in a fantastic display for England on Tuesday night, assisting Raheem Sterling’s opening goal and playing a key role in the second scored by Harry Kane. On the back of season when he has been named the best left-back in the league, you can only imagine how good he is feeling at the moment.
Gareth Southgate, whose starting line-ups have been criticised by sections of the fanbase for every game during the Euros so far, made the strange decision of starting right-back Kieran Trippier on the left in their opening match against Croatia. Since then, Southgate has seen the light and returned Shaw to his preferred position.
Still only 25, and his peak years ahead of him, there is plenty of optimism over what Shaw can achieve. But it hasn’t been plain sailing to get to this point.
Luke Shaw was called up to the England squad for the World Cup in 2014. Jetting off to Brazil as an 18-year-old must have been a dream come true. He knew a big move to interested clubs Manchester United or Chelsea was ahead of him, with Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both making their desire to sign him known.
The campaign was a disaster for England, losing the opening two games against Uruguay and Italy, but Shaw got his first taste of tournament football when starting the dead rubber game against Costa Rica. Shaw put in a decent shift, having a couple of attempts on goal, but it was nothing to write home about.
Three days later, Shaw was unveiled as a United player, becoming the most expensive teenager in world football. He had the world at his feet. But it didn’t take long for things to turn sour. Van Gaal had Shaw taking part in separate training sessions before the season started with concerns over his fitness.
“He is OK, but I am always a trainer-coach who sees individuals and what they need,” the manager said. “He needs to be fit and is not very fit and fit enough to do what I want. He needs to train individually until he is fit.”
It was remarkable that a player could have made such a massive move in his career and shown up at pre-season training in poor condition.
Shaw later conceded that he didn’t work hard enough in the summer, which asked questions of his attitude.
“Maybe I took it a little bit easy over my time off after the World Cup,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t think it was going to be as hard and as quick as it was.”
Roy Hodgson agreed with Van Gaal’s evaluation of the player, revealing that the coaching staff had to speak to him a couple of times about the way he applied himself in training during the World Cup. He revealed that Shaw’s previous manager at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino had voiced the same complaints. Even the youth coaches at Southampton claimed you had to constantly be on his back to get him to work hard.
None of this excuses the relentless bullying Shaw suffered at the hands of former manager Jose Mourinho, both in public and in private, but does give insight in to the incredible job Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done to get the best out of the left-back. Shaw clearly is a player who needs help in getting motivated and Ole has proven to be the manager up to the task.
After missing out on Euro 2016 due to the horrific injury he suffered against PSV in September 2015, then being left out of Southgate’s World Cup squad in 2018 due to poor form, Shaw’s career for both club and country has undergone an incredible U-turn.
Shaw returned to the England squad in March 2021, having not represented his country since September 2018, and registered an assist for Kane in the World Cup qualifying game against Albania.
“The last two years, I’ve been watching the game and really regretting not being able to take my chance when I’ve had them,” Shaw reflected at the time. “I’m so happy to be back. Even if I’m not playing and I’m around the squad, it’s still brilliant. Of course, I’d love to be in the Euros squad.”
Shaw has claimed that left-back spot as his own and will be looking to start in England’s quarter-final game against Ukraine on Saturday. Good luck to him!