“Patrice Evra was the best left-back of our generation, and I think Luke Shaw is very similar,” Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand stated earlier this season.
With the dust settled from a disappointing Europa League final defeat to Villarreal in Gdansk and the collective amnesia of every United supporter fully in gear, fans can look back on what has been an otherwise progressive campaign at Old Trafford as far as events on the field are concerned.
A comfortable runners-up position in the Premier League accompanied a Europa League silver medal; and while silverware once again eluded a club where titles were 10 a penny under Sir Alex Ferguson, there have been encouraging signs.
Bruno Fernandes’ Cantona-esque influence has once again set pulses racing, Edinson Cavani’s timeless grace has looked at home on the hallowed Old Trafford turf, and Shaw’s continued rise as one of the game’s best left-backs has not only given United supporters hope, but an entire nation.
Having recovered from a career-threatening double leg fracture in 2015 before making it through the tough regimes of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, Shaw has battled adversity to emerge as one of the most important players at Old Trafford.
José Mourinho in 2017: "I was making every decision for him. He has to change his football brain"
Luke Shaw in 2020/21: created more chances (55) than any other defender in the Premier League.
"He crawled through a river of s*** and come out clean the other side…" https://t.co/6ObF0MGY6w
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 11, 2021
His all-action exploits culminated in the Londoner scooping his second ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ award at Man Utd this campaign, and he now enters Euro 2020 as one of Gareth Southgate’s key defensive cogs for England, in both phases of play.
But just how good is Shaw? The term ‘world-class’ is so freely used its actual meaning is often as contentious as the players it is used to describe but, in the eyes of many, it takes years of consistent excellence to earn the tag. If it is perhaps a season too soon for Shaw to have achieved football discourse’s most coveted status, it is worth at least noting that he probably enters Uefa’s quadrennial tournament as the continent’s best player in his position on current form.
The 2020/21 season saw Shaw create the fourth-most chances across Europe’s top five leagues among defenders (72), ranking second for that particular metric in 2021 alone.
Shaw’s playmaker purple patch in 2020/21 confirmed his status as one of the continent’s creative kingpins among No.3s, as he outgunned serial assist merchants Jordi Alba, Andy Robertson, Ben Chilwell — who ranked a close second behind N’Golo Kante for ‘Man of the Match’ against Man City in the Champions League final — and Raphael Guerreiro.
So, while Southgate will have had a few sleepless nights and a bit more head-scratching to get through on the opposite flank prior to his final squad announcement, at left-back, Shaw and Chilwell picked themselves.
Overall, it could be argued that this England squad is superior and more balanced to the one that reached the semi-finals in the 2018 World Cup, where left-back was one of Southgate’s weaker spots. William Hill price The Three Lions at 11/8 to replicate that feat this summer, or even go one better and reach the final at 11/4, with odds of 5/1 to win the competition outright (odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org).
It’s hard to categorise Shaw as ‘world-class’ after just one blisteringly good season, but this season’s body of work has been ‘world-class’. Nothing takes a player’s reputation up a level over such a short space of time like an international tournament. And if he can maintain that consistency for this summer, England will be all the more likely to meet expectations. The result could perhaps leave Shaw a little closer to becoming more than just “very similar” to the “best left-back” of Ferdinand’s generation.