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For Luke Shaw, the transformation is taking its time

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Illustration by Olaf Hajek

It was a style of photograph usually associated with local newspapers in the late summer: an elated-looking teenager standing in a car park somewhere in suburban England, joyously parading his most recent exam results. But when Southampton FC tweeted a similar-looking image of their then-18-year-old Luke Shaw, wiping the tears from his delighted face and on the phone to his mother, it was one less of academic progression and more of a sporting development that seems to have happened oh so fast. Shaw could not contain his joy at being called up to England’s senior squad for the first time—just a year and a half after he had picked up those test results.

After that tweet went viral, in February 2014, Shaw spent his summer, a time when most his age would still be awaiting their test scores, as part of Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad down in Brazil. During England’s final group match, Shaw would make his World Cup debut, allowing the youngster to showcase the attacking-minded (and yet defensively sound) style of play that has earned him international praise. He entered the record books later that month as the world’s most expensive teenager, moving to Manchester United for a figure reported to be in the region for £30 million.

For some, the fee United spent on Shaw reflects long- term value; if the club can get 10 good years out of a player who, at 19, already has 60 Premier League appearances to his name, very few will still be raising eyebrows. For others, it is yet another example of overinflated fees for young British players, and an exorbitant price to pay for developing talent.

And then there are those who opt for a laissez-faire neutrality, pointing out that every player has to start (and online casino grow) somewhere, and that the left back is already much further on his way to leaving a lasting stamp on the game than others his age. With both club and country, Shaw, who began playing professionally at 16, has been preceded by some of the most stalwart examples of left-back longevity either has had to offer. Ashley Cole, 107 caps to his name, recently retired from the England national setup, while Patrice Evra, along with an impressive pile of medals, hopped on a plane to Italy with more than 250 United appearances behind him. The history books, too, list the likes of Wilson and Pearce, Irwin, Dunne, and Silcock—all of whom enjoyed stellar careers at Old Trafford, Wembley, or both.

For Shaw—still developing and still looking to emulate—the early signs are good. Having made the leap from teenage hopeful to (still teenage) England senior international and United’s roster, he is now in a position to prove he has what it takes to perform on the main stage. Who knows? Perhaps one day a future England star will be photographed while celebrating his first call-up, eyes widened at the prospect of becoming the next Luke Shaw.

Like what you see? This piece originally appeared in Issue 04. Subscriptions and single issues are now available in our shop

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