Luke Shaw scored his first career goal in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Leicester in the opening game of the Premier League season, as he looks to finally fulfill the potential people have talked up since he joined the club.
Over the past four seasons at United he has failed to live up to the hype. He joined as the most expensive teenager in world football but has never seemed to take the opportunity as seriously as he should.
Shaw met up with his new teammates on the back of the 2014 World Cup overweight and was forced to train separately from the rest of the squad in order to build up his fitness level. It was hardly the ideal start.
From his youth team coach Jason Dodd, to England manager Roy Hodgson, and Louis van Gaal to Jose Mourinho, all of Shaw’s managers have questioned the player’s dedication to training.
Ahead of this season, Shaw gave yet another interview where he claimed this year would be different and he would do everything possible to earn his place in United’s starting team, after playing for a manager who has regularly criticised him publicly.
“It would be easy for me to quit and say: ‘I want to go.’ Of course, if the manager comes and says: ‘You’re not a player for Manchester United, you’re not a player for me,’ then I’ll accept that and find another place,” he said. “I want to earn a contract. I don’t want a contract because in the next year I’m a free agent, so they might look to tie me down. I know the club believe me – I’ve spoken with them, the manager, I’ve had discussions, meetings. If they really wanted to they could’ve cashed in. I’m going to fight for it this year and I want to be in that starting team.”
Shaw’s original four-year deal was set to expire this summer but the club took up the option of extending it for a further year back in January. The belief at the time was United were only doing that to prevent the young left-back leaving on a free transfer, with Mourinho seemingly not a fan.
However, Shaw revealed that the manager had been in touch during the summer to talk up his chances of making it at the club and his start on the opening fixture of the season suggests Mourinho is keen to see what the player can do.
Shaw put in a decent shift and could have scored in the first half. Defensively, he largely did a good job, although he could have got tighter to Ricardo Pereira to prevent the cross coming in that lead to Jamie Vardy’s consolation goal for Leicester.
Still, Mourinho was complimentary of Shaw after the game, which will like further galvanise the left-back.
“I am very pleased for Luke Shaw – not just with that [the goal] but he made one mistake in 90 minutes,” he said. “He was very good defensively, he was good with the ball, he coped physically well, he had a good pre-season, he was one of the guys that had a complete pre-season playing every match and training for five weeks.”
If United are going to challenge for the title this year, after only bringing in one player during the transfer window who will likely feature regularly in the first team, Fred, Mourinho will need plenty of the players who failed to perform last season to step it up. Shaw is one of those.
Ashley Young was chosen ahead of him for club and country, starting for Gareth Southgate in the World Cup, so Shaw needs to show why he is the player to stick with going forward.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Young said of his competition last season. “I want to see Luke do well,” he added. “He just has to get his head down and work. I feel he can be one of the best in the world, like I say he has just got to work hard.”
It appears as though Shaw is taking football more seriously now and has worked hard over the summer to ensure he is in contention this season, after starting just eight league games in the last campaign. His desire against Claude Puel’s side on Friday evening was apparent.
United didn’t blow Leicester away but they can but they were worthy winners and take their spot at the top of the table, for now at least.
Debutant Fred put in a good shift as did Andreas Pereira, who has returned to Old Trafford after spending the past two seasons out on loan in La Liga.
Mourinho also opted to play the central defenders that he purchased, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, in preference of Chris Smalling and Jones, which went down well with the supporters.
United didn’t send out a huge message to the rest of the league with their victory over Leicester but they started off the season with three points, which is all Mourinho will have wanted on the back of a gruelling summer.
“The players gave everything, they gave what they had,” he said after the game. “I told them to give everything they had… Every team is a good team and every match is difficult, so three points in the first match of the season after such a difficult pre-season, with boys who only had three days of training, was important.”
Shaw, like his teammates, will be looking to build on his opening day performance and see whether United can prove worthy challengers to rivals City after finishing too far behind last season. But for this campaign, it’s so far so good.