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Luke Shaw: England's answer to Gareth Bale?

27 Dec 2012, 12:23 IST
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On the 5th of November, Southampton lost against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, after Peter Odemwingie scored a goal in each half to gift The Baggies another victory. It left Southampton with a win-draw-loss record of 1-1-8 in 10 games, conceding 27 goals in the process, and sitting rock-bottom in the Premier League.

While some would suggest that Nigel Adkins’ position in charge would’ve been in doubt at this point, there was little doubt a few months later as to whether his decision to promote a certain 17-year old to Southampton’s first team was the right one.

Since bringing Luke Shaw into Southampton’s leaky back four, the Saints have conceded just 6 goals in 8 games, earning their first two clean sheets of the season in the process. This included a 2-0 victory over current Europa League contenders Newcastle United in November, and a 3-1 victory over fellow relegation candidates Queens Park Rangers.

While bringing in Luke Shaw to the first-team was obviously not the only reason the Saints’ form has turned around, he has clearly been a revelation this season. Southampton are now one point above 18th with a game in hand and are showing signs of continual improvement, a vital sign for any club that is trying to get out of the drop zone.

Southampton v Reading - Premier League

Luke Shaw (left) of Southampton battles with Hal Robsson-Kanu (right) of Reading during a match between Southampton and Reading.

But it is of little surprise that Southampton’s problems have been in-part solved by bringing in a youngster – the Saints’ youth system for many years has been hailed as one of the best across the United Kingdom, considering a number of outstanding players have at some point in their career, plied their trade at the St. Mary’s. Not too many teams have the rare distinction of being considered constant producers of highly talented footballers in recent years like Southampton does – and Luke Shaw is one such precocious talent, waiting to explode onto the English football scene.

Currently at the tender age of 17, the 6’1″ left-back played for the highly-reputed Southampton academy and made his debut for the Saints’ first-team in 2012 – after being dubbed “the new Gareth Bale” for the obvious similarities in their preferred position on the pitch and the club that both Bale and Shaw have played for as youngsters.

Shaw had been a regular for Southampton’s Under-18 side as far back as two years ago, as a 15-year old. He made his full first-team debut in August 2012 against Stevenage in the 2nd round of the League Cup, and has since played 11 games for Southampton’s first team, spending an average of 72.9 minutes on the pitch per appearance in the process. He has spent an average of 76.4 minutes on the pitch per appearance in the Premier League this season, but has played for the full duration of Southampton’s last four games. Shaw is now a regular in the England Under-17 side, and has so far made 8 appearances for John Peacock’s squad, scoring one goal in a 4-0 victory over Lettland’s Under-17 side in October 2011.

While Shaw has been directly compared to Gareth Bale a number of times for being an attacking left-back, Shaw has done exceedingly well this season for the Saints primarily as a defensive-minded left-back – and not as an attacking left-back in the same mould as Gareth Bale – an attribute that has seen the latter play in an advanced role, as a left-midfielder of sorts.

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Gareth Bale, a Southampton academy graduate who is currently at Tottenham Hotspur, has thrived in a left-midfield role while initially starting out as a defensive minded left-back.

That being said, Shaw is blessed with great pace and the ability to dribble past players. Shaw is good at taking set-pieces, likes to get forward, and has proven that he has an eye for goal – a rare quality for a left-back. West Ham legend Sir Trevor Brooking described Shaw as being “technically very gifted” – and coming from a man who scored 88 goals in over 500 appearances for the Hammers, his stamp of approval is hard to argue against.

Nigel Adkins, who has managed Southampton since 2010 and has seen arguably one of his best talents in Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain move to a bigger side in Arsenal, has been adamant that Shaw is not going to be sold. Adkins was quoted as saying -

“Luke Shaw is a big part of our future plans. We have got no intention, believe you me, of letting any of our young players move on; we want them in the first team in the Premier League playing for Southampton Football Club. We have got a young boy in Luke’s case who has come through the system and has got a contract and we have got to protect him as much as possible so he can focus on playing his football. If Southampton are in the Premier League, there is no better place for any of our young players. They have more chance of first-team football here than elsewhere.”

While Luke Shaw is reportedly contracted to the Saints until 2015, because he is under the age of 18, he has still not been offered a full contract – and this has led to the British media linking him to a plethora of Premier League clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City being the most prominent of the lot.

But while Arsenal under Arsene Wenger are known for giving talented youngsters a fair chance to represent the club at the highest level, the Gunners already have two talented young left-backs in Kieran Gibbs and Jermaine Meade – the former being one of the five English players to commit their long-term future to Arsenal.

Manchester City, on the other hand, are not likely to give a budding 17-year old a spot in the first-team. Manchester United would also represent an option for Shaw, with Patrice Evra being on the wrong side of 30 at the moment, his consistency and form rapidly declining.

Chelsea are widely considered to be leading the race for Shaw with Ashley Cole almost certainly on his way out, but what would remain to be seen is whether Rafa Benitez and Roman Abramovich are okay with replacing an experienced English international and clearly still one of the best left-backs in the world with a relatively inexperienced 17-year old left-back.

Another option would be for either of the above clubs to bring him on board and focus his development on being a left-midfielder as opposed to being a left-back – and this is perfectly viable considering almost any Premier League club would want to bring someone as talented as Shaw on board.

All things said however, Luke Shaw represents an exciting youth prospect for England and is testimony to the great work happening at Southampton’s youth academy. Suffice to say it will be interesting to see where Shaw ends up next – and expect to see him at a big club soon.

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