After he was substituted by manager Jose Mourinho at half-time of Manchester United’s recent FA Cup quarter-final win over Brighton, it has been heavily rumoured that Luke Shaw is set to leave Old Trafford this summer.
The left-back is reported to be unhappy at the way he is treated by his manager, and is looking for a way out. Indeed, Shaw’s substitution, in which Mourinho called him out for not following tactical instructions, is the latest in a long line of public criticisms of the defender.
These developments are sure to have many Premier League clubs interested in making a move for Shaw. He is still only 22 years old, and was deemed worthy of a near-£30 million price tag at age 18, becoming the world’s most expensive teenager when United signed him in 2014. If West Ham stay up, they would surely want to take a look at Shaw. I don’t think they should.
For a start, we need to get away from the idea that, just because he plays for a big club, if he’s not quite good enough for them, it makes him somehow good enough for us. Let’s be honest: Manchester United’s defence is poor, the weak link in their team by far. Barring Antonio Valencia (who has only been converted to the full-back position in the last few years) and Eric Bailly (who is never fit), there are few, if any defenders in that team who would be considered up to the traditional ‘United standard’. Shaw isn’t even good enough for that back-line.
Forget that United have conceded the fewest goals in the league after Manchester City. Mourinho’s team is designed to cover for these defensive frailties; even in home games against Premier League strugglers, United set up cautiously with two holding midfielders and regularly refuse to commit numbers forward – precisely because Jose is so scared at his vulnerable defenders being exposed. It’s causing a major problem for United fans, who are losing patience with Mourinho’s negative tactics, not least following their Last-16 Champions League exit.
This is where Luke Shaw comes in. I would be fine with him if he were a player unlucky enough to find himself slightly substandard in a great team. But most of Shaw’s defensive colleagues are league-average at best –and he can’t even get a game. He’s not trusted against weaker Premier League opposition, and makes mistakes when he does come in. These are teams that West Ham would want to be beating too, remember.
Indeed, for most of the last year, the manager has, in Ashley Young, preferred a player over Shaw who is not only not even a specialist in Shaw’s position, but also had scarcely played there in his career before. Young deserves credit for both his good performances there and also for re-inventing as a versatile and tenacious team player. But that should not detract from the fact that United paid around £30 million for a specialist left-back who’s currently worse there than his makeshift alternative. Why should West Ham take him off their hands?
Those defending Shaw may argue that it’s not his fault, and that Mourinho has something personal against him. Indeed, the media has consistently played up a rift between the two and Jose has criticised Shaw in public on a number of occasions. This time, public sentiment seems to be generally against Mourinho, which I can’t say I’m particularly devastated about. He is seen to be overly critical of the left-back, not giving him enough opportunity to show his full potential, and not coaching him to develop his talents fully.
While Mourinho-bashing is always a lot of fun, we should not let it be lost that, in this particular case, he may have a point. Shaw’s defensive mistakes were plain to see in the Brighton game, and only so much of this can be put down to a lack of confidence from the manager. I revert to the point that Jose’s first choice left-back is Ashley Young. If Shaw is not coping against the sort of opposition we would want to be beating next season, why would we want him?
Mourinho has also criticised Shaw for his lack of hard work and fitness. “He needs to be fit and is not very fit or fit enough to do what I want”, he said of Shaw last season. Is this unfair treatment, or merely Jose exercising his high expectations of his players? Why should West Ham not have the same expectations of their players?
Question marks about work-ethic and fitness have followed Shaw around, and Jose is not the only manager to publicly question the defender’s attitude. Louis van Gaal also left Shaw out of games because he was “not fit enough”. Roy Hodgson and Mauricio Pochettino have also spoken about Shaw at England and Southampton respectively. “I felt his head was not in the right place to make the sacrifices and decisions that are necessary at that age”, said Pochettino. “The work-rate which is required does mean that he’s got to work very, very hard on that aspect of his game” was Hodgson’s verdict. The two managers put it more diplomatically than their Man United counterparts, but the point was made loud and clear.
Some may say we should invest in Shaw because of his talent – that we could re-invigorate the player that showed so much potential at Southampton and was voted to the PFA Team of the Year at age 18. To this I say that talent – itself an unclear concept – is nothing without mindset, and we now have years of evidence that Shaw may not have the mindset to make it at the elite level. I also remember us taking the risk on a ‘talent’ when we took Ravel Morrison off United’s hands. We’ve also had more than our fair share of expensive sick notes over the years.
Plus, we would have to factor in that United would demand a high price for the defender, and the player himself high wages. All of this factored in makes it difficult to be in favour of us making a move for Shaw.
But, most of all, we shouldn’t let ourselves fall into the trap of expecting a bad player on a good team to become a good player on an average team. Ultimately, there are too many question marks about Shaw: his inability to make the first team in a poor defence, his fitness and his mindset. I would hope that our new head of transfers, whoever they may be, would be sensible enough as to look at other targets this summer.