“He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but when I was with him it was only ever up, up, up. I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.”
Those were quotes from Luke Shaw on Mauricio Pochettino, taken from Guillem Ballague’s recent biography of the Tottenham Hotspur manager. Shaw played for the Argentinian at Southampton and in that brief book epilogue, he revealed how Pochettino would push him and aim to improve his game by showing him detailed analysis clips of what he was doing wrong. Concerned with the defender’s diet, Pochettino would even make him a smoothy in the morning and welcome him into his office before training.
That paternal care from Pochettino was rewarded in spades as Southampton finished eight in the Premier League table. Shaw was outstanding and his performances earned him a place in England’s 2014 World Cup squad at the expense of Ashley Cole and a £33 million transfer to Manchester United – a then record for a teenager.
Shaw’s dream move turned sour though when he suffered an horrific double leg fracture in a Champions League game with PSV Eindhoven in September 2015. Initially ruled out for six months, Shaw wouldn’t play again until the following campaign. Quite what impact that injury has had on him physically and mentally is pure speculation, but he often gives the impression that he’s still struggling to fully get over it. Every tackle sees him contemplating the danger, every run is lethargic, every pass a chore.
The affection Shaw feels for Pochettino must acutely contrast with how he perceives his current manager Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has administered tough love and his criticism of Shaw goes back as far as the start of last season when he gave a penalty away in a 3-1 defeat against Watford and was admonished for immaturity.
Months later, he questioned Shaw’s commitment after declaring himself unfit for a match with Swansea and then compared him unfavourably to Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian. Mourinho saved his most callous words for when Shaw did eventually fight his way into the first team, suggesting that the player was playing in his own body but with the coaches’ brain.
“He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him.”
Despite claiming in January that he didn’t see many better left-backs around, Mourinho’s treatment of Shaw hasn’t improved. Shaw was substituted at half-time in United’s FA Cup win over Brighton and once again signalled out for individual mocking. Those familiar with the Pedro Leon story at Real Madrid will recognise the similarities: Mourinho tends to signal out a youngster who he considers weak and humiliates them to demonstrate his authority to the rest of the squad.
Regardless of whether that is what Mourinho is doing or not, it is becoming increasingly clear – if it wasn’t many months ago – that Shaw’s future lies away from Old Trafford. Speculation on his next destination will no doubt begin immediately and judging by the obvious fondness he has for the man, could a reunion with Pochettino be on the cards?
Surely such a move would appeal to Shaw. Tottenham’s gradual evolution and progression in recent years is impressive and he would surely relish the opportunity to kickstart his career in a young, hungry and ambitious team. The club themselves would probably welcome such a deal as well, given the potential opening in the left position come the summer. The absence of Danny Rose has seen Ben Davies retain a starting berth for much of this season. Davies is solid and reliable, but a fully firing Shaw would fancy his chances of dislodging the Welshman. Still only 22, he has room to develop and improve under a coach who clearly respects his ability.
The other part of this equation is of course Rose himself. The England international was an integral part of Pochettino’s plans until he gave an interview questioning the ambition of the club in the wake of Kyle Walker’s move to Manchester City. Having started only six matches since, it would appear that his relationship with the coach is broken and that a move away is imminent.
So how about the two swap roles?
Mourinho has quite obviously lost patience with Shaw to the point where he would rather start a converted winger at left-back instead. Five of his eight signings as United manager have been in their late 20s and evidently there’s a preference for established, ready made players – precisely the category Rose falls into. For the Yorkshireman, he gets what he desires as he moves towards his peak.
Meanwhile, Pochettino is far more likely to work with a younger player on his deficiencies and nurture his talent. There are countless examples of him maximising their potential and propelling them to new heights, including Rose who went from Sunderland loanee in 2013 to England’s starting left back three years later. History suggests the same could transpire for Shaw if he had the right coach capable of understanding his sensitive nature.
A swap deal makes so much sense for all parties, but in football the rational outcome doesn’t always occur. It remains to be seen what the future holds, but it’s safe to assume both Shaw and Rose would be open to trading places right now.