Man Utd needs more from Shaw, but fullback is still a long way from a full recovery

The England defender has been back in action for three months, but he realistically is still in a phase of recuperation after his devastating leg break.
“He has a double leg fracture. He is in hospital. He will be transferred tomorrow with us or maybe a day later and then operated on in Manchester. It is awful. He was crying.”

As Louis van Gaal delivered the initial verdict on Luke Shaw’s leg break to a somber press room in Eindhoven in September 2015, it was clear that physically, mentally and emotionally the Manchester United left back had a lot of hurdles ahead of him to overcome.

Relatively few footballers have one of those moments of anguish in which they know their career is about to take a very different route to the one they had planned in their head. Even fewer are forced to deal with such knowledge before they reach the age of 21.

Some believed that his youthfulness would stand him in good stead, suggesting that he would have more time than most to get himself back on track. And in that opinion lies a salient point. It is well known that a long-term injury can often bring with it various ailments and other traumas that take a significant period to recover from.

Right now, Shaw is finding that out the hard way. He heads to Swansea with United on Sunday almost three months on from his competitive return to the football field against Leicester in August’s Community Shield, yet the former Southampton man is still learning new lessons about life on the road to recovery.

Spending 10 months out of the game brings with it a number of factors, not least physically. As much as Shaw was praised for the hard work he was putting in during his long spell away from the field of play, he has yet to get anything close to full speed since his return with his fitness arguably still a long way short of 100 percent.

He has also suffered from the time off in terms of his game development. Losing such a long time during the early stages of his career has arguably set him back just as much from a tactical and technical point of view as it has physically. He came in for significant criticism from Jose Mourinho after finding himself well out of position for one of Watford’s goals in the 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in September.

It just so happened that he had a groin injury at the time of his error, and he has only been back in the first-team picture for three weeks since then. Even now, there are some who believe Shaw is only currently earning game time because two of his competitors for a left back slot, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, are now filling in for injury victims Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly at center back.

While Shaw is required in the short term due to a lack of alternatives, it must not be forgotten what he has been through and what he is still going through. Perhaps it is understandable if he switched off for a moment as he pondered the very human factors of a footballer’s life for a split second at Watford.

After struggling during his first season with United following the 30 million pound transfer that made him the world’s most expensive teenager, he had just been showing his very best football before that tackle by Hector Moreno that altered the course of his career. He will very likely need to be cut a lot of slack for some time yet as he comes to terms with the everyday demands of life as a Manchester United player once more.

Of course, playing in the famous red shirt automatically plants you into a goldfish bowl. The whole world is watching your every step when you play for United, and in a modern game which is quick to judge Shaw is well aware that expectations will remain high despite the background provided by the events of Eindhoven.

When he allowed Cameron Borthwick-Jackson to go on loan to Wolves, Mourinho will have been hoping that Blind and Rojo would be foil enough for Shaw as he stepped up his comeback. But now that the games are coming thick and fast, with United playing on three fronts, Shaw is finding it hard to provide the lung-busting runs forward alongside the defensive discipline that everyone knows he has in his locker.

His form is understandable, but the needs of United right now are huge in every position. As such, the day when a fully firing Luke Shaw is back up to full speed and the height of confidence cannot come soon enough for Mourinho.