There are two realistic options available to Luke Shaw; he can either stay at a club under an oppressive manager seemingly reluctant to nurture his precocious talents due to some unspecified grudge against the left-back and see out the remaining year of his contract.
Or, the left-back could investigate the possibility of leaving said club when the transfer window reopens at the end of the current season and attempt to revive a career that has been steadfastly fixed on a downward trajectory for the last 18 months in more harmonious surroundings.
It is just short of four years since Shaw became the most expensive teenager in world football at the time, leaving Southampton to join Manchester United for £30 million in 2014 – a move intended to be the next step in Shaw’s development after establishing his Premier League and international credentials whilst at St Mary’s.
Instead the 22-year-old has endured a torrid time at Old Trafford, failing to live up to the early promise displayed at Southampton, regularly incurring the wrath of Jose Mourinho whose latest public admonishment of Shaw has prompted speculation that the England international won’t be a Manchester United player when the new campaign kicks off in August.
Mourinho was once again critical in his post-match assessment of Shaw following the FA Cup quarter final win over Brighton at the weekend, withdrawing him at half time and berating his defensive work in spite of an encouraging performance leading to accusations of bullying.
Reports after the match suggested that Mourinho’s latest rebuke has convinced Shaw to seek a move away this summer, with several Premier League clubs expected to contest for the signature of a player who is clearly talented but lacks the necessary guidance to progress to the level he was expected to reach at Manchester United.
There have been murmurings that Newcastle could reignite their interest in Shaw after Rafa Benitez unsuccessfully enquired about taking him on loan during the January transfer window, eventually being priced out of a permanent deal by the Red Devils who valued the full-back at £20 million.
Improving the competition at left-back has been a major issue for Benitez in his two years at St James’ Park, with Paul Dummet remaining the only viable option in that area presently available to the United boss so its easy to see why he retains an interest in Shaw.
And yet, while many may consider Benitez to be the perfect coach to realign Shaw’s focus and get his career back on track, Mourinho’s unyielding distrust of the former Southampton man shouldn’t be entirely dismissed as petty fault-finding.
While Mourinho has cultivated a new persona as a cynic, it is easy to forget that the Portuguese has worked with some of the best left-backs in the world and observes Shaw on a daily basis; more than enough to form a well-rounded opinion on a player.
It is on this basis that Benitez should be wary of a player whose poor attitude, poor conditioning and lack of on-field intelligence has been flagged up by the Portuguese in the past, claiming after a win over Everton in April 2017 that Shaw required constant verbal guidance during his short time on the pitch after coming on as a substitute.
Mourinho damningly described his performance as “his body with my brain.”
Little seems to have changed since then and Shaw clearly remains unpolished, a work in progress in desperate need of fresh, fertile ground in which to grow and renew himself. More importantly, he requires a dedicated manager willing to invest time and patience into a player whose potential remains frustratingly untapped.
In an ideal world Benitez would be that manager having witnessed the improvements made by the majority of the Newcastle squad this season, but the feeling is that Shaw just doesn’t fit the Benitez mould, one that requires defenders to defend first and think about attacking later.
A regular criticism levied at Dummett is his lack of prowess and flair when going forward, a trait considered essential in modern full-backs and one that Shaw possesses in abundance. It’s the defensive aspect of his game that will ultimately concern Benitez, an area in which Dummett excels.
From a financial perspective, spending £20m, plus a salary that would exceed that of the highest earner at United, on a defender in need of basic defensive tuition wouldn’t be wise, especially for Benitez whose summer recruitment budget will hinge on whether Mike Ashley remains in situ as owner.
This season has highlighted Dummett as one of the best and most improved left-backs in the Premier League – and, more importantly, one whose attributes and mentality conform perfectly to the Benitez ideology on defending. It’s no fluke that his return from a long-term injury in late December, adding balance and solidity to a creaking back-four, coincided with an upturn in form for Newcastle and underlined his importance to the team.
The same cannot be said for Shaw as he seeks refuge from his Manchester United nightmare.