2014 has been kind to 18 year old Luke Shaw thus far.
For starters, he capped off his breakout season for Southampton by being named to the 2013/2014 PFA Team of the Year.
He also received his first senior team call up to the England national team, and was named to the final 23-man roster to represent the country in this summer’s World Cup. Then, made an appearance for the “Three Lions” in the team’s final group stage game against Costa Rica.
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And, as if things couldn’t get any better, just last week he completed a transfer to legendary club Manchester United for £30m, making him the most expensive teenager in the history of world football. Don’t spend it all in one place, Luke.
The move marks the first big splash signing for new manager Louis van Gaal, who, as evidenced by what he has the Netherlands doing at the World Cup, wishes to install a new, attacking mindset for the 20-time Premier League title winners. Something that was laking for the majority of the season last year under David Moyes.
If that truly is the goal, though the move’s been questioned by a United legend, then bringing Shaw into the fold at Old Trafford should prove to be a wise one.
Last year, in his first full season, he was the epitome of a modern fullback. Meaning that, flying down the wing and assisting in attack is just as important as a tracking back and holding down your side of the pitch defensively. He was a nightmare for opposing defenders, and was one of Southampton’s chief providers offensively. His 32 key passes (pass that leads to a shot on goal) was fifth amongst Premier League defenders.
Yes, the 32 key passes only yielded one assist, but it demonstrates just how much Shaw was able to get forward and set up his teammates. He was fortunate enough to play alongside the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert (now with Liverpool), which made things a little easier, but there’s no denying he possess the pace and ability to be a creator.
The move to United should only bolster his opportunity to create. With players like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and even Juan Mata in toe, though his former Saints teammates are talented players, there’s no denying his level of attacking partners has gone up a notch.
But, his offensive prowess wouldn’t mean as much if he wasn’t able to hold his end of the bargain defensively, would it? Fortunately, while he may not ever be an elite defender, Shaw has demonstrated he has the ability to win the ball back, do so cleanly, and position himself well – the key responsibilities of a defender.
Last year he was successful on 59% of his tackle attempts (61/104). Tackling is an art form and no one will win every attempt, but the fact the he’s shown he can win the ball back consistently speaks volumes about the defensive ability he possess even at a young age. Additionally, he only committed 26 fouls during the course of the season. This ties in with tackling and is important because fouls give the chance for possession back to the attacking team, and can often lead to goals if the foul is committed in a dangerous area. And lastly, he averaged five defensive actions (clearance, interception, or block) per game for Southampton last season, and, according to Squawka.com did not commit a defensive error.
All told, while there’s no denying he’s still raw as a player and has areas where he needs to improve (his 79% pass accuracy comes to mind), he’s one of the brightest young stars in world football and certainly could find himself on the short list of the best fullbacks in the world in a very short time.
Many will – and already have – questioned the move for Manchester United, but the fact remains he’s an upgrade at left back over the incumbent Patrice Evra. He has tireless pace, can pick out a pass, and can hold his own defensively. He was a nightmare flying up and down the left wing for Southampton last year, and it shouldn’t take long before he makes himself at home at Old Trafford.