Luke Shaw Is Erik Ten Hag And Manchester United's Man For All Seasons

Whether deployed on the left or in the centre, Shaw is indispensable
12:00, 04 May 2023

Not since Tony Blair had the future of the left shown so much promise before inspiring such disappointment. Luke Shaw’s public flogging came as a result of his exploits on the football flanks rather than the wings of the political spectrum. But his then-manager at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, still meted out his rebuke with the crushing weight of a campaign-trail opponent.

Mourinho publicly called out Shaw’s football brain, the way he trained and accused him of looking for an easy way out through injury. Over his spell in the Old Trafford dugout, no player seemed to get his goat as much as the former Southampton star. Given Mourinho’s standing in the game and the weight his words carried, it was difficult to envisage a way back for Shaw.


But that was then and this is now. In the season Mourinho was sacked, Shaw won both the Player’s Player and Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season awards. He added another Player’s Player award in the 2020/21 campaign. As well as becoming a vital cog in the Manchester United machine, Shaw also scored for England in the final of Euro 2020 against Italy. His strike was the fastest ever registered at that stage of the competition.

But this meteoric rise is perhaps enjoying its peak now under new United boss Erik ten Hag. The Dutchman signed Tyrell Malacia over the summer, with the Feyenoord man tipped by man to usurp Shaw. However, while the 23-year-old has provided spirited competition, he has been unable to wrest Shaw’s place away. In fact, the two have featured together at times.

This has been due to the fact Shaw has emerged as a surprise centre back this season. While the England international had made the odd cameo as the left centre-half in a back three, this year has seen him called into action on the left of a two. Injuries and suspensions to Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Harry Maguire have seen Shaw deployed in an unfamiliar role. But the usually attack-minded full-back has actually thrived with this new remit.


Shaw lined up for the FA Cup semi final against tonight’s opponents Brighton & Hove Albion in a centre-back position. Diogo Dalot was moonlighting in Shaw’s usual left-back berth while he partnered Victor Lindelof in the middle. The 27-year-old managed to keep Roberto De Zerbi’s ambitious side at bay for 120 minutes before United won a penalty shootout.

This is a needs must situation of course. For all his ability, it is hard to envisage United winning the Premier League with Shaw playing out of position. Not least because his skills are best served at left-back, where he is genuinely one of the best in the league. But Ten Hag’s faith, first in picking him over Malacia, and then in turning to him to bolster the central positions is telling.

Given United’s free spending last summer and Ten Hag’s need to instil his ideas, some improvisation was always going to be necessary. As time goes by it becomes more and more clear that Maguire isn’t cut out for life at a top four side. Therefore, the ex-Ajax boss has turned to a player already under his roof to replace him. While United’s first choice XI would see Martinez and Varane occupy the central roles in defence, Shaw is proving an able deputy.

It likely won’t be long before Shaw is back in his regular full-back position. United will be all the better for it, given what he adds both defensively and in attack from the left. But Shaw’s ability at centre back gives them a dimension they will feel comfortable calling upon again. From a player who had no place at the club under Mourinho, Shaw now has several.

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