Luke Shaw loving life with England after long-awaited return to selection

Tuesday 23 Mar 2021
Shaw in conversation with England manager Gareth Southgate following his return to the Three Lions squad

In a sense, Luke Shaw is one of this England squad's most-experienced players.

A scan down the list of players called up for this month's opening set of qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup reveals that only two of Shaw's present colleagues made their international debut earlier in the male team's 1,009-game history than the Manchester United defender.

The players in question, Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling, now have 111 caps between them. Shaw, though, has so far received just eight.

The 25-year-old's story is a complex one, and particularly so when it comes to his experiences on the international stage. He was just a teenager when he made his England debut, playing in a 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley in March 2014. A few months later, he was part of Roy Hodgson's squad for that summer's World Cup finals.

An 18-year-old Shaw waves to the crowd after his England debut

A move from Southampton – the club he had joined at the age of eight – to Manchester United followed, but an injury-disrupted start to life at Old Trafford meant he played just a handful of games before Christmas of that year, one of which was for his country.

The start of 2015 looked promising, as Surrey-born Shaw began to establish himself in the Reds' defence but a half-time substitution against Arsenal in early March preceded a withdrawal from the England squad for that month's games against Lithuania and Italy. He played only three more times before the season's end.

The new campaign began with Shaw demonstrating the form that had caught the eyes of both United and the Three Lions. Having been an ever-present for his his club in the first month of the season, he started both of England's September fixtures: a 6-0 win in San Marino and a 2-0 home victory over Switzerland.

Shaw has only played for England twice since 2015

Seven days after that win at Wembley, just as he looked to be establishing himself for club and country, disaster struck. In a Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven, Shaw's leg was fractured twice. He would not play again for 11 months.

Fast-forward five years and Shaw is widely-accepted as being in the form of his life. He has played 36 times for United this season – a total he has only bettered in full campaigns twice previously – earning him his call-up for England's games against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

If he appears in any of those games, he will win his first cap since September 2018, when he set up England's goal in a 2-1 loss to Spain at Wembley. After a series of withdrawals and absences in the remainder of that year's games and those in the early part of 2019, he has not been selected in any of Gareth Southgate's last seven squads.

Shaw scored his first Premier League goal since August 2018 in this month's win over Manchester City

But, speaking in an interview with Josh Denzel for England's TikTok account on Tuesday afternoon, Shaw says his 30-month wait for a return to the squad has made the feeling of reacquainting himself with the international game all the sweeter.

"I'll be honest: it's brilliant," he enthused. "I'm just really enjoying it. I'm obviously proud and happy to be picked again.

"Just to be in the squad again is unbelievable after being out for a long while, so it's good to be back. It's good to see the manager and staff, and obviously the boys too.

"It'd be no lie to say I've been through a lot, but I think the most important thing for me was getting back to enjoying football again and I feel like I'm doing that. Things are going well so far and I just need to keep it going – to keep enjoying it and keep my confidence high."

Shaw in training alongside James Ward-Prowse, who was his team-mate at Southampton from the age of eight

He continued: "The mental side is a big thing in football and I think a lot of people know that now. I've been really unlucky with injuries, I think, and I've always stuck by myself and believed in myself.

"Even when sometimes your confidence can be low and you're struggling, you've always got to believe deep down that you can get back to where you once was. I always did that. I still think I can get better, so hopefully I can keep improving and showing people what I can do."

From being not long a child himself when he made his England debut seven years ago, the Shaw that reported to the national football centre this week is now a father – perhaps a sure sign of a new-found maturity.

"It is probably the biggest change in my life and the best thing that could've possibly happened, I think," Shaw says of his son, Reign.

"It's the best thing I've ever experienced, to see him being born right in front of me – that's the best feeling I've ever had. I'm sure most parents would agree. The love I have for him and the way he's changed me has been brilliant, and I'm loving every minute of being a dad.

"It's a very special feeling. It was really hard to leave him, because we've been in lockdown so there hasn't really been a reason to leave him – of course we've had away games but it's only been for one day, so this one was very tough.

"Hopefully I enjoy these two weeks but they go quite quick so I can get back to him!"

Of all people, Shaw will know not to get ahead of himself but, if he can bring his club form onto England duty this month, a longer stay at St. George's Park might be on the horizon.

A place in Southgate's squad for this summer's European Championship finals would surely put to bed the last remaining memories of his frustrating start to life as an international and allow Shaw to focus on a brighter future with England.

By Jim Lucas