No one will be cheering on England quite like Luke Shaw this summer. The United defender would have loved to have been out in Russia, playing, but the reality is it has been 15 months since his last call-up for the Three Lions.
Shaw has seen veteran Ashley Young take his place for both club and country in that time and establish himself as one of Jose Mourinho’s dressing room lieutenants at Old Trafford.
But if England progress past the last 16 of the World Cup, that left-back spot could be up for grabs on the club’s pre-season tour of the US as Young will be given extra time off.
We have already seen how important a full pre-season is for Shaw. Indeed, he produced his best run of form under Mourinho on the back of the Portuguese’s first summer at the club.
It was a different story a year ago. Shaw flew out with his team-mates to Los Angeles despite an ankle lay-off as Mourinho was keen to build team spirit in those weeks away, whether it was through table tennis tournaments or popular end of session training games.
Working in the state of the art gym in the Wooden Centre at the UCLA, Shaw obliged for autographs when spotted in club training kit and attended a sponsorship event alongside Jesse Lingard at the Adidas store.
It looks like he will have a more active role one year on. Indeed, just three days after his 23rd birthday, Shaw will board a flight that could yet change the course of his United career.
MEN Sportunderstands United are in the market for a new left-back if the right option becomes available but centre-back is the overriding priority.
Tellingly, too, they have no interest in Juventus defender Alex Sandro, who is mulling over a new contract over in Turin.
There remains a desire within the club to see Shaw fulfil his immense potential and it is understood that Mourinho rates his options at left-back as ‘OK’.
But, nearly three years after that horrific double leg fracture, the onus is still on Shaw to ‘get your head down and work’ like Young warned him as he enters the final 12 months of his contract.
A situation where Marcos Rojo, Blind and Darmian are ahead of him in the pecking order can’t happen again. Indeed, Shaw could yet face fresh competition from new signing Diogo Dalot, who can play at left-back if required.
But, for all the rebukes from his manager, Shaw has shown the fight Mourinho demands of his players and is refusing to throw in the towel. And that has impressed him.
So much so that in January, he admitted ‘I don’t see many left-backs better than this Luke Shaw’ after a rare run in the team following Young’s three-match suspension.
Tellingly, though, Young was restored to the starting line-up just a few days later and Shaw went on to make just six starts in the final months of the season.
Any time he has appeared since, Mourinho has often been on his case, scowling as he urges his left-back to chase and harry or complaining he is too far forward.
That culminated in Shaw being hooked at half-time of United’s FA Cup quarter-final clash with Brighton.
“Luke, in the first half, every time they went in this corridor, the cross was coming, the situation was coming so I was not happy with the performance.”
Now is the time to put that right.