There is no truer gauge of a footballer’s popularity than the reception they receive from matchgoers. With the return of 10,000 fans through the Old Trafford turnstiles last week, Luke Shaw was treated to rapturous ovations by those back in the Stretford End and the Scoreboard End.
The greetings for Shaw as he prepared to take corners were not disimilar to the cheerleading reserved for David Beckham following his fateful flick at the 1998 World Cup. Shaw has enjoyed his best season yet for United and those supporters will have also appreciated his stand against the Super League, articulately expressed in a statement hours before its collapse.
Shaw’s approval ratings rocketed again when he reached out to a supporter who was ejected from Old Trafford last week. The home-and-away matchgoer had tossed a green and gold scarf at Shaw as he prepared to take a corner. There were amused cheers from fellow supporters and Shaw chuckled before flicking the scarf to one side. Jobsworth stewards thought otherwise. Shaw has ensured sense will prevail.
We are speaking a day before the incident, when Shaw is yet to appreciate his matchday popularity. He is as valued by United followers as the teammates who voted him the players’ player of the year.
“You only had to watch the final the other day, Chelsea-Leicester, and you could see the fans, you could hear the fans,” Shaw says on the phone. “Even I was just sat there excited listening to them!
“It was so nice to hear some noise in a stadium again instead of hearing Harry [Maguire] shout at every referee! In general, for everyone, it’s going to be nice to hear voices in the crowd and get back to normality, and hopefully this is just the start for more fans getting back inside the stadium.”
Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young all started in Shaw’s absence. Rojo and Darmian signed for United after Shaw but he has outlasted both. A week after Shaw’s 2017 League Cup omission, Mourinho discussed United’s plethora of left-backs: “I think the one that should be in the couple of years the best of all – because potentially he should have all the conditions to be the best of all – is Luke Shaw.”
Shaw has finally attained world-class status, worthy of mention in the same breath as Alphonso Davies and Andy Robertson. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher both picked him in their Premier League team of the year. Weaker players would have wilted.
“I always believed that I would be able to do it,” Shaw stresses. “There were maybe people who were saying, when I was going through the bad times when I wasn’t playing, people were telling me to get out of there and go and play somewhere else.