The past few weeks have heralded new beginnings for Manchester United and England left-back Luke Shaw. Shaw registered his first England assist last week, sliding down a pass from the left straight into the box for England's opening goal against Switzerland in their Euro 2016 qualifier. He also bombed down the wing in Manchester United's away game loss at Swansea recently, providing his first assist for the club.
When United paid £27 million pounds for 18-year-old Luke Shaw during the summer transfer window of 2014, eyebrows were raised. The then most expensive teenager ever in football. His price tag, age and the fact he had not yet fully proved himself were the biggest concerns. However, many were quick to defend the price tag. They said that Luke Shaw was a prodigious talent; many consider him as having the ability to become the best in the world at his position.
Perhaps others also saw something in Luke Shaw that Southampton and Manchester United maybe also saw when considering the fee. It appears Shaw could eventually make the transition from being a left-back, to an out-and-out attacker, emulating the famous legacy of Gareth Bale.
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It is cliche to mention that Gareth Bale was not the most defensively disciplined or effective of left-backs, but he was always a forward menace. He loved attacking.
Athletic, tall and powerful, when Gareth Bale runs past defenders you feel the wind burst as he goes through it as he propels forward. The ground shakes. "Where were you when..." moments arise. Stars get star-struck. Watching him rocket past Marc Bartra of Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final of 2014 to score the winner in the last few minutes of the game was one of the great footballing moments of the last decade. Even Ronaldo, Achilles himself, was affected.
It was almost as if an invisible force field was holding Bartra back; almost as if Bale wasn't doing anything all that spectacular himself - but he was. It defied belief how Bale just went past him despite being behind him and outside the pitch.
Bale started out at Southampton FC like Shaw, before being bought by Tottenham Hotspur. Bale is now the best British footballer in the world, has achieved the highest accolades for his club and is on course to lead Wales to their first ever tournament for decades.
Gareth Bale, on his day is the most explosive and exciting footballer in the world. Above all, Bale is a big game player, scoring in 2014's Champions League Final. Luke Shaw has a long way to go equal that, especially in terms of developing his match-winning mentality, and confidence.
Despite Shaw's clear attacking prowess, he also has phenomenal defensive skills. Though this defensive ability was never in doubt, considered the brightest prospect at the Southampton Academy, he recently impressed many with his discipline and decisiveness. He is not avid for losing one-on-one duels down his side, and knows how to time a tackle to inch perfection. He also often chips in as a last-resort centre-back, making crucial interceptions in and around the box.
Moving back to his attacking skills, Shaw is also technically astute with the ball as he moves forward, and loves link-up play, forming an early relationship with Memphis Depay. Luke Shaw has pace, power and punch about him too. Standing at over six foot, he is very aggressive and direct in his running, with rapid speed.
Luke Shaw made that famous run against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford during the 2014-2015 Premier League season, where he sped down three-quarters of the pitch beating an array of men only to unleash a solid, low shot that was narrowly saved. Early signs were there for all to see - the run sharing elements of Gareth Bale's cheetah sprints against Inter Milan back in 2010.
Surely Manchester United would have seen that Shaw simply has too much attacking talent to be 'wasted' at left-back for the rest of his career?
Despite many lambasting his weight, he appears to have excellent fitness this season. Luke Shaw is naturally stocky-set but has the physique and body-type to emulate Gareth Bale's amazing speed and agility, but it is understood that there is a way to go yet still in terms of physical development to reach those Olympian levels. Gareth Bale was born a pure athlete, dominating the Athletics field since school.
For Shaw to become like Bale, he needs to also work on his finishing. Bale has developed a striker's killer instinct. Luke Shaw made several runs into the box against Club Brugge KV for United in the Champions League Play-off last month, where he had chances to score but didn't.
Optimistically however, his shots are often on target. Therefore, positive signals are there for Shaw to develop himself and add goals to his game, much like Bale did.
Bale as a left-back scored five goals in his first Premier League season for Southampton in 2006-2007 and eventually broke the 20-goal barrier in 2012-2013. Bale clearly had goal-scoring talents from an early-stage, but it is also explained by how he was always very attacking.
Although, Luke Shaw doesn't need to become like Bale, forsaking any of his own attributes, but rather through fulfilling them, becoming something similar.
Bale is a goal-scoring winger, but he can also provide plenty of assists. Shaw, even if he does not reach the goal tallies of Gareth Bale can also be highly effective in other ways. Ángel di María is never renowned for his goal-scoring abilities as much as his amazing assist-making skills.
Shaw like Bale provides excellent crosses, can make chances and has good technical skills. He is not one to lose the ball too often or panic with it. The makings are there for Luke Shaw, but he also needs to realise his own footballing philosophy, and not try to be the carbon copy, as much as an original adaption.
It is said that Gareth Bale's biggest weakness is that he is a space-junkie. He is not as adept to get out of tight spaces, and opposing teams to try nullify him by closing off space for him to charge down. Luke Shaw can avoid this. He enjoys passing the ball around tight spots, and can thrive in intricate situations.
Furthermore, even if Shaw becomes an attacker, his defensive skills will not fade. He will always be able to track back and make crucial interceptions. That can do himself, and his team no harm.
Shaw is only 20-years-old while Bale is six years older. Shaw has time on his side, so if Manchester United want him to become like the Real Madrid man, they must time things carefully.
He is still a young and precocious talent and has much to learn. United will therefore let him develop at left-back for now. There he can both develop his attacking skills without too much pressure, given defending would still be his number one priority. It would also allow him to learn from others upfront.
Luke Shaw seems to be Louis van Gaal's first-choice left-back, he will have guaranteed starts to prove his talents in Europe and big league games by scoring the odd goal or assisting.
For now, Luke Shaw should be allowed to continue his development naturally and create his own legacy as a footballer. When he reaches a certain level then any such transition can be made. Shaw is already advancing rapidly. It goes without saying that he has world-class potential.
Again, there is no need for Shaw to become a like-for-like clone of Bale, but to develop his own footballing identity. Given the similarities between the two, that itself would anyway entail that Shaw in many respects would end up highly similar, but also different in some others. For the evolution of football, such diversity is to be encouraged.
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