Manchester United’s Luke Shaw: the full-back to winger transition 0

Luke Shaw is a Southampton-produced teenage full-back who has just moved to a big Premier League club for a big fee.

Clearly, whatever he does over the next few years will be measured against Gareth Bale’s career progression.

It seems lazy to compare Shaw with Bale but it’s not actually inaccurate to do so.  Yes, there will be some who will just assume that the latter will automatically evolve into the former and I’m sure that the ‘new Gareth Bale’ moniker is going to be an unwelcome-yet-inevitable part of Shaw’s future, but there are definitely parallels.

It sometimes feels as if Bale’s history at Tottenham has been rewritten.  During his early years in North London he became popularly known for his losing streak in a Spurs shirt, and that really fueled a series of misconception about him.  While the stories of a potential loan to Nottingham Forest were true, there was never really a point at which his talent was in doubt.  He was frail in the beginning and his injury problems are testament to how under-developed he was physically, but he was still a sensational athlete and a player of huge technical ability.

Harry Redknapp has tried to retrospectively take credit for the meteoric rise in the player’s status and the decision to move him away from full-back and into a more attacking role, but most Tottenham fans who remember those early days in 2007 will probably tell you that he was always destined for that transition.

I see a lot of 2007 Gareth Bale in 2014 Luke Shaw.  Shaw is slightly older now than Bale was then, but their traits are very similar and their tendencies on the ball.  They both carry position very aggressively, they both like to knock the ball into space, and they both have very little fear when taking on an opponent one-on-one.

Bale obviously evolved into something very special and exceeded early expectations, but that only really happened because the attacking side of his game was so valuable.  Had he remained at full-back, he would been a very useful offensive option and he would provided excellent width on the left-hand side, but it would have amounted to a waste of his potential.  Between late 2009 and 2013, he was gradually incorporated more into the attacking structure and, as he became progressively more accomplished, his role was centralised and - under Villas-Boas - he turned into someone around whom the entire side operated.  The more he played in the opponent’s half, the more his skill-set developed to suit his usage and the better his attacking instincts and qualities became.

There’s no way of knowing whether Luke Shaw’s progression in the game will be as fast or as dramatic, and it’s hugely unfair to lumber him with that kind of expectation.  It is fair, however, to expect him to move further up the pitch as he gets older and for his offensive abilities to be honed in a similar way.  In his first season at Old Trafford he will play the wing-back role which exists in Louis Van Gaal’s formation of choice and, with experience, he will become a more balanced player and a better defender.   Regardless, it seems inevitable that a point in the future will exist when his attacking attributes will demand a more advanced position and will be seen as too valuable to be restricted by defensive obligations.

That might not be soon, but I’m convinced that that is where he will ultimately make his reputation.

With that confidence on the ball, with the lovely long-stride he possesses, and with the amount of money Manchester United were willing to pay for him, full-back must surely just be a resting point for him while he learns the nuances of the game - and that’s where the Bale comparisons are justified.  The end destination may be different, but the pathway taken is likely to be very similar.

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