On May 9th of this year, Luke Shaw won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, and few would argue that it was not deserved. It marked the completion of a double win, with Shaw already having won the Players’ Player of the Year award.
Whilst the team’s performances in 2018/19 left a lot to be desired and, arguably, perhaps nobody deserved to win an award, the fact is that Shaw did come out on top, ahead of Pogba, De Gea and Rashford, ahead of the sadly missed Ander Herrera, ahead of Anthony Martial. Moreover, when Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka signed for Manchester United this summer, most United fans were excited about having a top class back four, and Luke Shaw’s name was very much a part of that. Indeed, at the time when Shaw picked up a hamstring injury in the lead up to Crystal Palace’s first goal against United on August 24th, the side had only conceded one goal in two games and had looked strong defensively.
Fast forward three months, and Shaw’s comeback from that same injury has been met with attitudes from the fanbase that have ranged from apathy to derision. Despite completing 90 minutes in his first match back on a freezing cold night in Kazakhstan – and looking one of United’s least tired players toward the end of the game – Shaw appears to have got an early part as pantomime villain in the hearts of the club’s supporters.
#LukeShaw should be made the mascot for the next #MUFC marketing campaign. In his bloated, aimless ineptitude, Shaw’s hopelessly unfit for purpose physique is the very embodiment of the decayed state to which the Glazers have reduced #ManchesterUnited #GlazersOut pic.twitter.com/xiSaGLmO3g
— Machiavelli’s Prince (@oldbedian) December 1, 2019
Someone tell me why Luke Shaw is still at Manchester United?
— ShaunaGames (@ShaunaGames) December 1, 2019
Fans reacted particularly badly to Shaw being brought on to replace Brandon Williams in the 79th minute against Aston Villa:
Should have won? We didn’t deserve to win. 4 wins in 14 is abysmal. Any other team in world would be sacking their manager. We needed a goal today and he brought on Luke F****** Shaw. Hes out of his depth it’s that simple.
— Dan Williamson (@DanWilliamson88) December 1, 2019
And then there was the ultimate insult:
— Abdirizak (@Abdiriz05261839) December 2, 2019
Meanwhile, at 24, Shaw has been included in a list of “fading stars” to whom executive vice chairman Ed Woodward should not have offered new contracts, according to the Daily Star. Quoted in an interview with United We Stand fanzine, Woodward felt it necessary to defend the decision, which is said to have “left some supporters stunned.”
So why this sudden shift in popularity for Shaw, whose injury problems have left him unavailable for 115 games since joining the club from Southampton in 2014?
It’s unfortunate for Shaw that he is coming back into a side that has made the worst start to a season since 1988. In such situations, fans naturally and rightly question the players’ attitudes and accusations of laziness start to fly. Cue the return of the left back, whose physique – especially after a layoff – tends to be “fuller”, on average, than the next player. Whether Shaw is actually overweight or whether it is more to do with his natural shape, when things are going well for the player and the club, it tends to get overlooked, whereas in bad times, it’s easy for fans to interpret it as evidence of the complacence, laziness and pampered nature of their fallen heroes.
It’s normal for players who are not naturally lean and lithe to take a few games to shed the extra pounds caused by a lay off. Hamstring injuries in particular leave players restricted to upper body work in terms of fitness training. On the other hand, whether fair or not, it is not the first time Shaw has been accused of a lack of fitness. It is a stigma that the player himself has worked hard to dismiss, having famously taken on extra training sessions both in 2015, when accused by Louis Van Gaal of being unfit, and again in March 2018, when José Mourinho levelled the same accusation at the player.
The other piece of unfortunate timing as far as Shaw’s popularity is concerned is the meteoric rise of 19-year-old left back Brandon Williams. Whilst Shaw rightly or wrongly exemplifies the apathy that has infected established first team players, Williams has quickly become the poster boy for the determination, character and spirit of the generation of young lions who are champing at the bit to take their place. Without Williams, we would have been relieved and excited to see Shaw back and ready to take the left back position back from Ashley Young. But now, with the younger, blonder and faster Williams staking his claim, Shaw suddenly seems surplus to requirements.
Time will tell whether Shaw can win back the hearts and minds of the Old Trafford faithful, but one thing is clear: in Williams he has genuine competition for the left back berth for the first time since he arrived at Old Trafford 5 years ago.