Depending on which angle you catch him from, Luke Shaw can appear to be carrying too much timber or in peak condition.
The left-back has taken to social media on a number of occasions to post pictures of his ripped body to deflect attention from repeated criticism he gets for not working hard enough to keep himself in shape.
If Shaw was playing every week, proving himself to be worth every penny of the £30 million Manchester United forked out for him as a teenager four years ago, people probably wouldn’t care much.
“People can say I’m fat but I know my own body,” Shaw said this week. “I always look big because I’m bigger built – I’ve got that Wayne Rooney type of body.”PaddyPower.com has Man United 15/2 to win the Premier League this season, get a piece of the action now
When Rooney was banging in the goals for United every week, nobody was bothered about his larger frame. He may have returned from the summer break overweight, up to half a stone on one occasion according to the player himself, but this didn’t have a negative impact on his performances over the course of the season so United fans largely turned a blind eye to it. He would get himself fit and play a key role in United lifting trophies so it didn’t much matter that he let himself go over the summer.
The same can’t be said of Shaw though, who summed up his first season at the club with a “C+” rating, before seeing his career derailed with a shocking leg break at the beginning of his second.
What was so frustrating about the injury is that it came at a time when Shaw was playing some of the best football of his career. It’s rare that a team’s left-back can be one of the most important players but that is what Shaw had started to become at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Defensively he was solid but he was also making an important contribution to the attack.
“Obviously last season was very difficult for me,” he said at the time. “I just feel fresh and fit and hopefully I can get a run of games now and keep my performances up. I trained before I went back to pre-season. That was a massive help to me and now I just want to keep on playing well. I feel great. I feel better than I did at Southampton. Game by game I feel like I’m getting stronger, especially in training. I just want to keep it up now and pray there are no injuries.”
Less than a week later, Hector Moreno broke Shaw’s leg with an awful challenge in United’s Champions League tie against PSV.
While there have been the rare moments of optimism since then, Shaw’s career has largely been on a downward spiral. His supporters will look for anything to blame this on, from the injuries to Jose Mourinho’s apparent bullying of the player, but it is time for Shaw to take responsibility for himself.
Jason Dodd, his coach at Southampton’s academy, Mauricio Pochettino, his manager at Southampton, Roy Hodgson, the England manager when Shaw went to the World Cup, and Louis van Gaal, his first manager at United have all voiced the same complaint: he doesn’t work hard enough.
You can’t expect to start for Manchester United and England if you don’t work hard in training. That’s not a difficult idea to grasp.
It’s something his teammate Ashley Young embraced and has led to him being selected ahead of Shaw for club and country.
The 33-year-old’s work ethic is second to none and he’s created fans in Mourinho and Southgate because of the way he applies himself. He is hungry for success and does everything he can to achieve it.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed at all,” Young said ahead of the World Cup. “I think it’s just the hunger and desire and passion I’ve got for the game. I’m a born winner. I want to win games and that’s why I show that. I wasn’t in England squads but I never gave up hope of getting back in. I just had to get out there and play football as well as I could.”
Young, who is 10 years older than Shaw and has played most of his career as a winger, has offered Shaw advice along the way, recognising the left-back’s huge potential.
“He is a fantastic player. I feel he can be one of the best in the world. You’ve just got to work hard. We’ve got a healthy competition in our squad and when you’ve got world-class players training day in, day out, everybody wants to be in that team. It’s tough. But if you play and train and give 100%, then you get your opportunity.”
This advice seemingly fell on deaf ears though, and it appeared Shaw would be leaving the club this summer.
United extended his contract by a year in January, a move that reportedly was more designed to prevent the player from leaving for free than anything to do with his importance to the first team squad, but now it appears his future in Machester might last longer than previously thought.
Shaw has confirmed that Mourinho has been in contact over the summer and, unlike the public criticism the manager often dishes out, has been incredibly supportive.
“He said he knows I can be the best but he sometimes feels frustrated that I’m not doing that,” Shaw revealed. “That was one of the texts he sent me in the off-season: ‘I know what you can do – you can be the best but you’ve just got to work on a couple of things.’ That’s why it pushes me on more. He says these things because he knows I can do it. He knows I can play for Manchester United.”
Shaw has had more lives than a cat at this stage, but it looks as though Mourinho is going to give him another go.
The responsibility is now Shaw’s to ensure he repays the faith of the manager, however little he’s done to warrant it.Fight your way back to fitness in preseason with PaddyPower.com’s football odds