Luke Shaw: ‘People can say I’m fat but I know my own body’
‘I always look big because I’m bigger built – I’ve got that Wayne Rooney type of body’
Luke Shaw of Manchester United during the pre-season match against San Jose Earthquakes at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images
Luke Shaw is honest regarding the criticism he attracts for perceived weight issues.
Speaking at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills, where Manchester United are based for their US summer tour, Shaw is about to embark on a make-or-break year at Old Trafford. The defender is in great shape physically after a personal pre-season programme in Dubai this month but, more than anything, he would rather his physique was not constantly judged.
“I guess you’ve just got to take it because there is always going to be negative criticism and positive but both of them can make you stronger,” he says. “I’ve been unlucky because I’ve had a few ups and downs with different managers but I would say I’ve never been out of shape. Honestly, I feel really good and I’m raring to go, and the minutes [on tour]are only going to help me become fitter.”
Shaw, who has started all three of United’s games in the US, is entering the final year of a contract he signed in 2014, when he arrived at Old Trafford from Southampton for a fee in excess of £27m and with the then 18-year-old an England left-back. He was expected to occupy the same position at United for a decade or more but his career there has yet to fire.
Shaw has endured injury, notably a broken leg in September 2015 that ended his season. And from the moment Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho’s predecessor, branded him overweight during the 2014 summer tour of the US, the charge has dogged him.
“People can say I’m fat but I know my own body,” Shaw says. “I always look big because I’m bigger built – I’ve got that Wayne Rooney type of body.”
The trip to Dubai illustrates the player’s determination to compete with Ashley Young for United’s starting left-back slot, and if a picture he posted on social media is anything to go by the 23-year-old has been doing all the right things.
“I worked hard and not just for them [critics],” says Shaw, who is likely to start United’s Premier League curtain-raiser with Leicester City on August 10th because of Young’s post-World Cup break. “I’m working harder than ever and in the first game I want to look 10 times better than in that picture.”
Like Van Gaal before him Mourinho has been critical of Shaw’s weight, leading to accusations of bullying on the Portuguese’s part and the player at one stage last year believing he had no future at United. But as Shaw reveals, the current United manager has been hugely supportive of his summer fitness regime, going as far as to send him encouraging text messages.
“I was in Dubai with my girlfriend. It was funny – I was on my phone flicking through stuff. I got the text and accidentally clicked straight away [to reveal he read it]. The manager was probably thinking: ‘Jesus Christ! ’I said to my girlfriend: ‘I’ve just opened it and I must look so weird now.’ It was fine. I left it a little bit to reply because I didn’t want to look too eager. It was a breath of fresh air when he texted me. I wasn’t expecting it. I spoke to him and it was really positive.”
Shaw runs through his routine in Dubai. “We had to wake up early because it was hitting 45 degrees by 10 o’clock – it was quite painful the first day as we did do it in that heat. I would train and go in the gym. Then relax during the day and run on the beach and do core work in the evening before the sun went down.”
With Shaw’s deal ending next summer he could leave United on a free if the club do not offer him fresh terms. “That’s what’s most frustrating,” he says. “You don’t want to be in this situation but I know I have got the quality to [truly]become a Manchester United player. Because at the moment it would be easy to sort of give up, after what happened in the last year or so.”
Shaw is referencing Mourinho’s public admonishments regarding his approach to training and performances in matches. “It would be easy for me to quit and say: ‘I want to go.’ Of course, if the manager comes and says: ‘You’re not a player for Manchester United, you’re not a player for me,’ then I’ll accept that and find another place.
“I want to earn a contract. I don’t want a contract because in the next year I’m a free agent, so they might look to tie me down. I know the club believe me – I’ve spoken with them, the manager, I’ve had discussions, meetings. If they really wanted to they could’ve cashed in. I’m going to fight for it this year and I want to be in that starting team.”
Shaw appeared to hit a nadir in March when he was hauled off by Mourinho at half-time of the 2-0 victory against Brighton. It seemed his Old Trafford career may be over. Yet there were four further appearances. “There were no doubts but there has been emotion,” the player says. “I was very upset but he [Mourinho]only does stuff like that because he knows what I can do. We’ve had this conversation. He said he knows I can be the best but he sometimes feels frustrated that I’m not doing that.
“He knows what I can do. That was one of the texts he sent me in the off-season: ‘I know what you can do – you can be the best but you’ve just got to work on a couple of things.’ That’s why it pushes me on more. He says these things because he knows I can do it. He knows I can play for Manchester United.
“It’s horrible at times because people only see those things he says [in public]. That’s fine because I’m a grown man and I can take stuff like that. I’m used to it. But the stuff inside the training ground, no one sees apart from me. It still gives me confidence.” – Guardian service