Ahead of Manchester United’s opener against Chelsea on Super Sunday, Luke Shaw opens up to Adam Bate about the ‘near embarrassing’ end to last season, the training-ground work that is helping to transform the team, and why he wants to be celebrating this season.
Over in the academy building at Manchester United’s training ground, the players are filming their goal celebrations for the new season. Luke Shaw has gone for a straightforward number – looking to the sky – but if he does find the net there is an alternative in mind. Shaw is due to become a father for the first time in early December and wants to commemorate it.
“I have got a few months to get a baby celebration in,” Shaw says with a smile to Sky Sports. On his 104th Premier League appearance, the left-back finally scored his first goal on the opening weekend of last season against Leicester but he has not added to the tally since. “I had to wait a long time for my first goal and now I’ve had to wait a long time for the second one too. Hopefully there are a few more.”
Shaw may have scored only the one goal but his 40 appearances for United last season were twice as many as he had made in any of his previous four campaigns with the club. Can someone who went to a World Cup with England five years ago still have a breakthrough year? Maybe not, but Shaw deservedly picked up every player-of-the-year award going at Old Trafford.
Not that he is getting carried away given the circumstances.
“From a personal point of view, it was a better season than I have had for a while but I still think I can do much better,” he says. “I didn’t really feel like anyone deserved the player-of-the-year award because of the season we had as a team. There is more to come from me and everyone needs to be better because last season was somewhere near embarrassing.”
Shaw is refreshingly blunt but why shouldn’t he be? There is no shying away from it. Manchester City won the Premier League, Liverpool won the Champions League. Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all contested European finals while United’s season ended in a home defeat to relegated Cardiff. That was their eighth loss in their final 12 games.
“We were all very disappointed,” he adds. “It hurt even more that there were so many English teams around us who were playing in finals and had done well while we were just on holiday. There was nothing we could do about it other than watch the games and think. Of course it hurt. We all felt it. We have a lot to prove this season and I am sure we will.
“We are going to have a much better season.”
That sort of optimism has been evident in pre-season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has put a huge emphasis on fitness, with Scott McTominay declaring that many of the United squad have never experienced anything like it before, but it has been more than that. Marcus Rashford has spoken of how the team have a clearer idea than ever of what their manager wants.
Shaw, a player who is accustomed to his own fitness levels being under scrutiny, is another who appears genuinely impressed by what he has seen in pre-season.
“It has been much harder than we have had before,” he explains. “We have worked very hard and all taken it in a positive way. Now we are all benefiting from it massively. We feel good and fresh. The players seem more energetic. I look at my team-mates and I feel like I see more hunger in them than last season. Everyone wants to prove a point.”
He adds: “We are working on things in training so we have more of an idea now on how we want to play and what the manager wants from us. That is what we needed, for the manager to show us how he wants us to play. I feel we are ready and I can’t wait.”
Manchester United’s playing style has been a focus of debate throughout Shaw’s time at the club. The reactive football under Jose Mourinho did not find favour with everyone at Old Trafford and it seems that there will be a renewed effort to be more progressive.
“We are Manchester United,” says Shaw. “We should be having more possession than we have been having in the last couple of years. We have worked on that more this summer.”
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How feasible it is that Solskjaer’s side can challenge the Premier League’s best remains to be seen. They finished 31 points adrift of Liverpool last season let alone the champions. But the signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James as well as the emergence of Mason Greenwood at least suggests that there is an idea now.
Manchester United are building again.
For Shaw, on the eve of his sixth season at United, the glut of young players means that he is now one of the senior figures. Only six first-team players have been part of the squad longer than he has. And yet, despite Ryan Sessegnon’s alarming revelation last year that Shaw was his role model when he was a little boy, he only turned 24 in July.
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August 11, 2019, 4:00pm
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“I always thought I was young but that did make me feel old,” he laughs. “It is madness. I was always the young one here for many years. I have been in their situation. The biggest thing I can do is make them feel welcome because when you come into a big environment like this it’s never easy. It doesn’t matter about their age, they are here for a reason.”
Shaw is the baby of the group no more. He has a baby of his own to think about now. He started with a goal on the first day of last season. How he’d love to repeat the feat against Chelsea on Super Sunday. “I suppose I could still do the celebration after December,” he says. “But who knows, I might need to have more than one celebration this time.”
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