Producing an exceptional display at the new home of one of his most ardent critics seemed a quite fitting closing chapter to the story of Luke Shaw’s remarkable resurgence.
In the same week that the Manchester United full-back had finally publicly responded to Jose Mourinho’s attacks, the left-back put in one of his best displays in an England shirt, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The left-back has been integral to Gareth Southgate’s side getting to the semi-final of this summer’s European Championships. So good, in fact, that he has been given the nickname ‘Shaw-berto Carlos’, comparing him to Brazilian great Roberto Carlos, something the 48-year-old has no issue with.
“He’s been improving each game and I think he’s got everything to get to the top. He’s the left-back for England, that in itself says a lot,” Roberto Carlos told the Press Association. “I don’t like comparing. It’s two completely different periods in football. I had my time and now he’s having his.
“Similarities I think could be that he has strength and the desire to win, just like I did.”
Shaw himself was shocked to receive an Instagram message from the Brazilian after his performance against Ukraine, but it is testimony to how he has fought back that he is now being talked about as being at the very highest level.
It is hard to believe that, a little over 18 months ago, he had fallen behind Brandon Williams in the pecking order at Old Trafford. Less than a year ago, the club invested a further £13.6 million to sign Alex Telles, so concerned were they with their left-back depth.
But Shaw is now becoming used to proving his doubters wrong.
When Shaw signed for United in 2018, it was quite the culture shock for a player who was still only 18 at the time. His diet wasn’t what it should have been and adaptations had to be made to his lifestyle and fitness regime. He was forced to undergo individual training sessions on a pre-season tour after Louis van Gaal declared he was “not fit enough to do what I want”.
In terms of public humiliation, this was small fry to what was to come further down the line for Shaw, but it was the beginning of an important lesson, that he would have to become mentally tough if he were going to prove himself at ‘The Theatre of Dreams’.
It certainly served him in good stead. It was clear that Shaw had grown into a resilient character by the way in which he got an arduous rehabilitation programme after suffering a nasty double leg break in 2015.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that Shaw never considered quitting United even during his toughest times under Mourinho.
A book could be published on the Portuguese manager’s verbal attacks on Shaw – and that’s just the public ones.
The defender brushed all of them off but, in March 2017, it really did seem as if his United career was over when Mourinho told reporters, “It is difficult for him to be on the bench. I cannot compare him with Ashley Young, with Matteo Darmian, with Daley Blind.
“I cannot compare the way he trains, the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. I cannot compare. He is a long way behind.”
One of the lowest points of his time in Manchester arrived a year later when he was hooked at half-time in an FA Cup game against Brighton.
Shaw kept going, though. During one international break, Mourinho gave those who hadn’t been called up by their respective nations some time off. However, while many of his team-mates hit the beach, Shaw turned up for extra training sessions at Carrington.
Determined to change Mourinho’s mind, he even took a personal trainer on holiday with him in 2018 in a bid to get back on track. The images of Shaw working with Gary Walker, a former fitness coach at the club, were seen by Mourinho, who sent the full-back words of encouragement on WhatsApp.
Shaw opened the message so quickly he was worried his manager would think he was weird, so he delayed replying. He then went on to shock Mourinho in pre-season training by coming out on top in fitness tests.
Now, Shaw is reaping the dividends. Indeed, his improved mindset is something fellow United defender Harry Maguire touched on ahead of England’s semi-final clash against Denmark on Wednesday night.
“I think first and foremost his ability has always been there,” the centre-half told reporters. “He has every attribute needed to be one of the best left-backs in the world.
“I would probably say the main difference I feel within Luke is his mentality, in terms of pushing himself and the demands he is putting on himself now to not just be a 6/10 in each and every game, not to play comfortably, but to push himself to be the best player on the pitch because there’s no reason why he can’t do that with all the attributes he has.”
Of course, while Shaw deserves enormous praise for this turnaround, credit must also go to United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There are different personalities in life and it is clear that Shaw is the type who benefits from an arm round the shoulder, rather than a public humiliation, and Solskjaer’s astute man-management has ensured he has got the best out of the 25-year-old.
In one of their first meetings after Mourinho was sacked, the Norwegian told Shaw he was going to be a key player and this relationship, based on trust and respect, has done wonders for his self-confidence.
Shaw is superstitious. Fans have noticed the shuffle he does as he runs out onto the pitch and it doesn’t stop there. Last season, before every game, he wore socks adorned with the face of his little boy, Reign, while he also sports a chain that he kisses before handing to a member of staff after the two teams have lined up.
Becoming a father 20 months ago has certainly had a positive impact on Shaw but his emergence as a top-class player isn’t solely down to greater maturity and improving fitness.
Since Solskjaer took over, he has been actively encouraging Shaw to get forward more. The former forward has also advised Shaw to spend more time in training working on set-pieces.
“He is mentally very good at the moment,” Solskjaer recently stated. “He has become a dad and his fitness is so much better. He keeps beating his high-intensity stats, his total-distance stats.
“When you have the talent of Luke and that fitness and mental bit is sorted, you are always going to get good performances. Luke has got very good technique. He can take the ball and drive forward. It is something I’ve pushed him to do more because we know he can.”
It has been a campaign where everything has clicked for Shaw and, luckily for England, he has taken his form onto the international stage.
Southgate, just as Solskjaer did last season, Mourinho may disagree, of course, as he launched another attack last weekis now benefiting from his transformation into a model professional.
, but what he thinks about Shaw is no longer relevant.