The 23-year-old has struggled to establish himself since joining United in 2014. When he joined, then-manager Louis van Gaal said the player needed to work on his fitness, and Jose Mourinho has echoed the comments of his predecessor since taking over in 2016.
Shaw’s gametime over the last two seasons has continued to be limited, with Ashley Young preferred as the Red Devils’ first-choice left-back.
“People think because of the way I’m naturally built I’m bigger than I am,” the former Southampton man said in an interview with The Guardian.
“People can say I’m fat but I know my own body. Of course I always look big because I’m bigger built. You could say a Wayne Rooney type of body.”
Photos emerged this offseason of Shaw undergoing a gruelling fitness regime in Dubai to get in shape ahead of the preseason, with the young Englishman looking fitter than before.
“Of course I worked hard and not just for them [the critics], I wanted to for myself, get in the best shape and that wasn’t my best shape,” Shaw says.
“It was a good shape to start the season off, the preseason, but now I’m working harder than ever and first game of the season I want to look 10 times better than I did in that picture.
“I’m working towards that and with the games and training we’re doing here. Obviously we’ve got a new fitness coach and he’s working us all hard and that’s what I need.”
“I guess you’ve just got to take it [criticism] because there is always going to be negative criticism and positive but I think both of them can make you stronger.
“And I think I’ve been unlucky because I’ve had a few ups and downs with different managers but I would say I’ve never been out of shape I’ve just, I don’t know, sometimes people don’t think I’m fitter than I am but that’s all in the past.
“And, honestly, I feel really good and I’m raring to go. The minutes are only going to help me become fitter. That’s what I need: minutes and hard work in training.”
Mourinho and Shaw have endured a strained public relationship over the last two seasons, with the left-back coming under plenty of criticism from his manager. However, Shaw insists he has the Portuguese’s support heading into the new season.
“I spoke with the manager about a week after the holidays,” Shaw explained.
“I was in Dubai and he texted me and we had a really good chat, it made me feel really confident about the upcoming season and that’s why I worked really hard.
“I want to prove to him as well that I can be here, as well in this team.”
The Italian full-back has fallen way down the pecking order at Old Trafford and is behind club captain Antonio Valencia, as well as new Portuguese signing Diego Dalot, in the selection stakes at right-back.
Despite featuring during the Red Devils’ pre-season tour stateside, the 28-year-old insists his future lies elsewhere after featuring just 17 times in all competitions last term.
“I want to leave but we will see what happens because we don’t know,” the former Torino and AC Milan man is reported as saying by Goal.
As of yet, no concrete offers have come in for his services, however, Juventus are apparently in the running to sign him.
The stage is set for Paul Pogba.
Fresh off a World Cup triumph where his brilliant displays in midfield propelled France to the title, the 25-year-old can return to the Premier League with the ultimate clapback to any of his critics: I just won the World Cup.
And the nature of his performances for France – controlled, disciplined play at the heart of a counter-attacking team – should have signalled he’s finally ready to adapt to the role Jose Mourinho has in mind for him at United, where the manager has been looking for Pogba to produce his best under that directive for two seasons.
In that light, Mourinho’s comments in an interview with ESPN this week can only be viewed as perplexing.
“I don’t think it’s about us getting the best out of him,. It’s about him giving the best he has to give.”
Mourinho went on to say that the World Cup had been the perfect environment for Pogba, that playing for your country instills a greater sense of commitment, and that a summer tournament where players are cosseted in team camps and can focus on football for a month, far different from the grind of a league season and all the distractions available then – all valid points.
And in fairness to Mourinho, the Portuguese did praise his midfielder when doing punditry during the tournament, and said Pogba had been “absolutely brilliant” last week.
But the 25-year-old midfielder would be forgiven for having seen these comments and wondered what more he has to do to impress his manager.
If Mourinho wanted to challenge Pogba, there were better ways of going about it. All the manager had to do was raise the bar in a positive way, for example by saying the Frenchman’s brilliance at the World Cup showed he has the talent to lead Manchester United to Premier League or Champions League glory.
Pogba surely already knows that’s the expectation of him now that he’s led his country to a World Cup trophy, and hearing his manager express a belief that he could do it would have motivated him.
Mourinho's ESPN interview was intended to be a challenge to Pogba and his entourage. He feels that Pogba is too distracted by commercial aspects #mulive [duncan castles]— utdreport (@utdreport) July 25, 2018
And if the manager’s words weren’t enough to annoy Pogba, club legend Paul Scholes was there to drive the point home, saying his successor as United’s domineering midfielder is a player from whom “you get a performance out of every three to four games” and that Pogba “needs to use his brain a little bit more to become a top footballer” in an interview with beIN SPORTS.
Scholes is a pundit, paid to offer his views, and he has no reason to mince words. He isn’t tasked with worrying about how his words will affect Pogba. Nonetheless, the former Juventus man will no doubt bristle at the lack of support he’s getting from his club – and Scholes, as a former player and club legend, counts as part of the institution that is Manchester United.
Where, for example, have the defences to Graeme Souness’ constant, over-the-top, and largely unwarranted criticism for Pogba been? Imagine a former Liverpool player being that vicious about a United man during the Sir Alex Ferguson era, and the response they’d get from the Scot – without the requisite of winning a World Cup as vindication.
Pogba is almost certainly ignoring Souness and any other detractors at the moment, but it shouldn’t fall upon United fans on Twitter to defend him.
That’s Mourinho’s job. He’s done it before, responding on Pogba’s behalf – and his own – to criticism from people like Scholes and Gary Neville, another former United star, but for a man who styles himself as a father-figure manager, not defending his player when the perfect opportunity presented itself is an oversight.
In fact, the classic Ferguson move would have been not only to launch a verbal assault at Souness and other critics, but to have a reward waiting for Pogba when he returned. United’s club captain, Michael Carrick, retired at the end of last season, and having just won the World Cup, Pogba is ready to wear the armband.
1 - Paul Pogba 🇫🇷 among the French players in the World Cup 2018 🏆 (min. 2 games):— OptaJean ⭐⭐ (@OptaJean) July 27, 2018
69 touches per game - 1st
19 passes in the last third per game - 1st
1.5 chances created per game - 1st
18 duels per game - 1st
Antonio Valencia could still be the official club captain, as the senior man, but thrusting that responsibility on Pogba would have been the best way to challenge him.
Instead, all Mourinho is doing is antagonising his best player even more.
If Manchester United are aiming to push Paul Pogba out the door, they’re following the plan perfectly.