His absence might have been overshadowed by questions regarding the future of Wayne Rooney, but Luke Shaw’s continued travails at Manchester United reached a new low this week when he was omitted from the travelling party for Wednesday’s 1-0 Europa League win over Saint-Etienne.
In a week that sees United prepare to take on Shaw’s former club Southampton in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, it was expected that the European clash was his best chance yet to be given a run-out, having collected only one appearance in the last three months amidst doubts over his form and fitness. But his latest exclusion means there is simply no prospect of the left-back being in the squad for the Wembley fixture and seemingly little opportunity for him to play a significant role in the weeks to come.
It is all a far cry from the esteem Shaw found himself held in during his latter day at St Mary’s as he broke into the England World Cup squad as an 18-year-old and seemingly had the world at his feet. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his £30 million transfer to Old Trafford was to mark the start of a dramatic decline, with Jose Mourinho showing no signs of going easy on Shaw as he looks to reclaim a first-team spot.
A Goal source has disclosed that Mourinho held a meeting with Shaw recently, underlining to the player a need to show a similar attitude to that exhibited by Hernikh Mkhitaryan during his own period in exile earlier this season. The manager told the media of his demands of the 21-year-old in a press conference on Tuesday, explaining why Shaw wasn’t a part of the trip to France.
“Because I’m playing with Daley Blind, with Marcos Rojo, with Matteo Darmian, and all of them are playing a way I like a full-back to play,” the manager said. “Luke has to wait for his chance, working better and better, knowing that I give nothing away for free. They have to work really hard every day, they have to play well, so he has to wait. He is behind the others.
“Potentially he has many things that I like. But one thing is potentially and another is on the pitch expressing the things I want. He has to work as Mkhitaryan did.”
Mkhitaryan made just one substitute appearances in 14 matches after a disappointing showing against Manchester City in September, with Mourinho asking him to prove his desire to adapt to the needs of the team before granting him a recall. During that time, the Armenian committed to extra training sessions, regularly attending the Carrington training ground on days off in a bid to regain the faith of the manager.
However, Shaw has yet to show a similar level of dedication, leaving him behind Rojo, Darmian and Blind in the pecking order for the No.3 spot. And it has hardly helped his cause that United have gone on by far their most convincing run of the season at a time when he has played in only one of their last 20 fixtures.
Many have questioned Shaw’s overall level of fitness after returning last summer from a horrific leg break which ended his 2015-16 season just five weeks in, and while it is true that his body shape has been affected by the programme he was forced to follow during his recovery, it is considered that there are other underlying issues which have left lingering doubts in Mourinho’s mind.
People within the club understand that the manager retains a mistrust of Shaw’s motives after his proposed move to Chelsea in the summer of 2014. As the Blues’ manager at the time, Mourinho made a move for the full-back knowing that Shaw was considered throughout the game to be a huge Chelsea fan. But when the youngster snubbed Stamford Bridge for a more lucrative offer from United, it left the Portuguese questioning the player’s motivation.
Since taking over from Louis van Gaal in May 2016, Mourinho has yet to be convinced that Shaw’s drive is at the required level for a Manchester United player, and that has helped to contribute to the current impasse between the two. Mourinho is also said to be a rather passive, stony-faced figure during training, leaving little leeway for Shaw to make a personal impression on the manager.
United legend Paul Scholes told Goal recently that Shaw’s lack of progress worries him greatly.
“Luke Shaw’s a disappointing one actually. From Southampton and playing for England, you’ve got a potential to be one of the best left-backs in the world,” Scholes said. “It’s difficult to tell since we don’t know what’s going on at the training ground but he’s been fit for a few weeks now and whether his focus is totally on football or on something else I don’t know, but for one reason or another the manager’s not playing him.
“If he was fit and flying and playing the way he should be, and training the way he should be, he would definitely be the first-choice left back.”
Right now, Shaw is fourth choice at best with little sign of a lifeline being thrown his way. The ball is in the defender’s court, though. If he is willing to respond to Mourinho’s call for harder work and a desire to play the way the manager wants him to play, then he could come back into the picture just as Mkhitaryan did.
But if he is not willing to put in the work, then Shaw’s Manchester United career could come to an end much sooner than anyone predicted.