The 15th of September 2015 isn’t a date that’s likely to be etched into the memory of most United fans but in many ways it should be as the first step towards the implosion of the Louis van Gaal era began with a horrific challenge that night, which amazingly went unpunished.
Hector Moreno’s disgraceful lunge ended more than the marauding run of United’s left back, it more or less set the Reds on the road to a period of mediocrity they never truly recovered from and while it would be foolish to lay the blame for van Gaal’s failures at the door of the PSV defender, there’s no denying it robbed the manager of one of his most effective players at time when he was needed most, the question is has it robbed Luke Shaw of his United career?
Up until that fateful night United had been in decent form during the early part of the season, handing Spurs what would turn out to be a rare loss on the opening day before defeating Aston Villa in their own backyard, a brace of disappointing results against Newcastle and van Gaal’s nemesis Swansea were followed by an emphatic 3-1 win over Liverpool where a certain youngster the press had confidently labelled a ‘waste of money’ presumably due to their extensive research of him on Wikipedia – announced himself to OId Trafford with a well-taken goal that suddenly had the same press now comparing him to Thierry Henry- and they call us fans fickle.
Anthony Martial may have been the new darling of the fans, but it was Shaw who’d been the most consistent player during those first six weeks, as United moved to second in the Premier League table and made easy work of the Champions League qualifying round, defeating FC Brugges both home and away. Although United hadn’t always been entirely convincing, least of all in the draw with Newcastle and loss to Swansea, they had been grinding out results and the addition of Martial coupled with the Liverpool win seemed to give everyone at the club belief that van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’ could produce more than just a top four finish.
Despite Shaw’s double leg fracture almost certainly costing United the game against PSV, it didn’t affect the Reds’ immediate form as they managed two wins from the next two games to go top of the table, but the damage had been done and would be badly exposed on a trip to the Emirates. Arsenal’s 30 minute first half blitzkrieg of United was in part due to Matteo Darmian’s horror-show at left back, a display he’s never quite recovered from, while United would never look like challenging for the title again under van Gaal, failing to win three consecutive league games for the rest of the season, while enduring a horrible six game winless run in November and December despite facing such fodder as Bournemouth, Stoke City and Norwich.
An FA Cup win and a youngster from Wythenshawe may have saved the Reds’ season from disaster, but it wasn’t enough to save van Gaal’s job and few fans were sad to see the back of a manager who’d overseen a season where United had managed one more league goal than sh*te like Sunderland who finished 17th.
Van Gaal may look back on his time at United and see a correlation between where it all began unravelling and the injury to Shaw and many fans would agree that the youngster was the side’s most impressive performer prior to being sidelined, the question is would he be able to rediscover his form when returning from such a horrific injury?
Sadly it’s a question we may never know the answer to as Jose Mourinho doesn’t seem to have much confidence in the former Southampton player, when maybe he should have.
The likes of Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones have been handed a new lease of life under the new manager, performing not just as well as they had in the past, but actually far better than they ever had at Old Trafford, perhaps with the exception of Tony V’s annus mirablis of 2011/12, if defenders who’d shown so little promise of being good enough for the Reds can reach such dizzying heights, then why can’t Shaw?
Some may argue that the 21 year-old hasn’t recovered from his injury, that he seems overweight and has yet to reach the level he was pre-Hector-Moreno-disgraceful-horror-tackle-that-should-have-resulted-in-a-ban-not-a-man-of-the-match-award-by-those-inept-cretins-at-UEFA, but that’s being overly harsh on the one player more than others who has earned a chance to prove himself, one that at the start of the season it appeared he’d taken. As for his weight, Shaw has always been on the chunky side, with the figure of a latter day Gary Neville, but that doesn’t seem to affect his pace, despite making his choice of skin-tight jeans wear look like the biggest fashion faux pas since John Terry donned a Chelsea kit for a game he’d not played in.
United’s opening three league wins saw Shaw play every minute and give every indication he was picking up where he’d left off but since the win at Hull City, the left back has yet to feature in a winning league side and has been used more in the Europa League and English League Cup of late, his last appearance coming in the win over West Ham.
Mourinho openly criticised Shaw’s reluctance to put himself forward for the trip to Swansea and there’s a feeling the manager may have fallen out of love with a player who’s been struggling with a groin injury at a time when anyone has yet to truly nail down the problematic left back position.
It’s still slightly premature to believe that Mourinho has given up on Shaw completely, after he’s hardly treated him like the pariahs Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger, plus if Jose can roll Jones’s turd of a United career in glitter, then why not a player who seems to be far more naturally gifted?
The biggest problem facing Shaw may be his fitness as Mourinho has already shown his fury at players who have the audacity to be injured, or not 100% when the manager has decided he needs them and with a transfer window on the horizon it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if United brought in another left back, also with Daley Blind no longer guaranteed a start at centre back, he may have designs on making the left side of defence his own.
Blind is talented and reads the game well but his lack of pace can be more detrimental to the side at left back than it is down the middle, especially with the way the Reds often rely on the full backs to bomb forward and support the attackers, something Shaw’s extremely gifted at, as was proven the night he was injured in Eindhoven, when he charged into PSV’s box.
Some may have given up on Shaw, others may be a tad indifferent and believe there’s better options from within the United squad, be that Blind, moving Rojo out wide or even Darmian, but if you cast your mind back to the beginning of last season, the former Southampton man was the star of the show and with the way United seem to have clicked of late, putting a hugely effective left back into the team could be the difference between a top four challenge and something slightly more memorable.
Currently out injured, should Jose bring Shaw back into the side and get the same improvement from him he’s gained from his other defenders, then the 15th September 2015 won’t be a memorable date in the history of United, but May 2016 very well could be.