Maybe it was only right that before Jose Mourinho took charge at the Stadio Olympico that Luke Shaw christened it with one of his most complete performances.
The new Roma boss had arrived into town on Friday, on a private jet piloted by the club’s owner. He will not get his dream reveal at the Colosseum, and at the time of writing the location of his unveiling has yet to be determined. But his first order of business when he gets to his place of work will be to scrub out the graffiti down the sides of his pitch which reads “SHAW WAS HERE”.
No doubt Mourinho will say his piece. Not so much out of turn: he has commitments for TalkSport, The Times and The Sun as part of media deal struck before picking up his 10th job in management. But whatever take offered, Shaw is done. “It’s time to move on,” said the Manchester United full-back at the start of last week. And how.
Unquestionably, Saturday night was the 25-year-old’s most complete performance to date, coming at the end of a standout club season. That England coasted to a 4-0 quarter-final victory over Ukraine was proportional to his brilliance in the opening 65 minutes.
A precise cross from the left found Harry Maguire’s for 2-0, before a shuttle beyond Raheem Sterling and onto the forward’s delicate flick was clipped to Harry Kane for the third. You could even attribute him with some credit for the first: pulling away Ukraine right-back Ilya Zabarnyi to give Sterling the room to dart inside and find Kane to give England the lead in the fourth minute.
Shaw now has three assists for the tournament – second top across the board – all procured through a crossing ability that has improved immeasurably over the last 12 months. When United signed Alex Telles from Porto last October, it was in part because the Brazilian’s delivery was streets ahead of his English counterpart. But as the season wore on, Shaw’s end product went up a level, along with the rest of his all-round game, to see him emerge as one of Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s five most trusted players in the Premier League campaign.
On a sweaty night in Italy’s capital, where energy had to underpin the sharp movement on and off the ball necessary to best opponents focussed on being tight and deep, he covered front and back, as he had done for his four appearances in the last fortnight. He managed 70 touches and would have notched more on the clock had he not been removed with 25 minutes to go. That he was replaced by Kieran Trippier, who started the opening Euro 2020 match against Croatia ahead of him spoke of how he has emerged as a key man for Gareth Southgate.
With Shaw, it has always been a question of trust. Not so much on ability, which was clear to anyone with half an understanding of the game who saw him go about his work as a youngster at Southampton. But the queries around his physical robustness, a regular sticking point during his time under Mourinho at Old Trafford, have been answered.
His frame now resembles that of a fly-weight boxer. His lungs now the capable for the huff-and-puff of top-tier football. After 49 regular season appearances for club and country, with 2,655 league minutes, he has racked up 335 minutes for England. Only Kyle Walker – 360 – has more for this team from four appearances.
So much of international tournaments are about legacy-making, no matter how fickle. The unobstructed schedule, the wild emotions and enhanced jeopardy let us all get ahead of ourselves. Good is great, bad is shit and anything in between, well, doesn’t matter at all.
Luke Shaw was exceptional in Rome
But as tempting as it will be to revise these last few weeks, regardless of what happens in the semi-final on Wednesday against Denmark, Shaw has been unquestionably outstanding. Perhaps a hipsters choice for player of the tournament, but certainly one of England’s most vital cogs in a exceptionally function system. One that has yet to concede the goal and in which Shaw has been the standout creator.
The majority of his 15 crosses have been more passes than hopeful shunts into the mixer. The move that brought Sterling’s opener against Germany was replicated in this match just without a finishing touch. Jadon Sancho’s effort in the first half was ruled out for offside, but would have stood on VAR had it beaten goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan. That, too, was provided from Shaw, who had actually timed his dart beyond the last line perfectly to find his soon-to-be Manchester United teammate.
Only David Beckham (five in 2000) has more assists than Shaw in European Championships. That may, and club colours, may be the only things the pair have in common. Beckham was his own brand, larger than life and team. Shaw is simply himself. And now, with England on the cusp of history, he is getting credit for it. No one, certainly not Mourinho, can take it away from him.
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