When it came to selecting his World Cup squad for Brazil. the biggest choice for the England manager Roy Hodgson was between Chelsea’s Ashley Cole, still only 33 and one of the game’s greatest ever left-backs who boasts 107 caps, or Southampton’s Luke Shaw, who has played a mere 45 minutes for England in a friendly this year.
At first glance it would appear to be an obvious decision, but Shaw’s talent was too good to be overlooked and so the 18-year-old rookie will be in Brazil this summer while Cole remains at home.
After a succession of brilliant performances this season prompted a £27 million bid from Manchester United, as reported by Jeremy Wilson of The Daily Telegraph, Shaw simply had to be taken to the World Cup.
As Shaw said last week, per The Guardian: “[Roy Hodgson] said he had been to a lot of Southampton games, that it was a very tough decision between me and Ashley, but it was about form and the best players at this point. He said I have had a fantastic season and that is why I am here.”
At the start of this season Shaw had just turned 18 and only played 28 games for Southampton. There was some hype surrounding him but not too much.
Shaw was a recognised talent, the youngest player to ever appear in the Premier League for Southampton, who, after being rejected by Chelsea for being too small, had found salvation on the South Coast, forcing his way in to the first team under Nigel Adkins, as well as winning caps for several of England’s youth sides.
But few expected him to emerge as one of the Premier League’s leading performers this season and finish it by ousting Ashley Cole from the England squad.
It has been Shaw’s youthful brio along with Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez that helped Southampton finish a comfortable eighth in the Premier League this season.
Shaw is a natural athlete, blessed with the physique and pace to excel as a full-back in the modern game.
On the left-side of defence he is an agile and muscular obstacle unwilling to let anyone get beyond him.
“There aren’t any weaknesses," his Southampton and England colleague Rickie Lambert told reporters, per the BBC. "The best wingers in the Premier League, I can’t remember one who has got the better of him."
But in the modern game defenders are expected to do much more than defend, and this is where Shaw has proved himself to be an immense talent with his frequent attacking forays.
He possesses a rare composure on the ball and a willingness to stride forward to augment Southampton’s attacks with his strength, presence and incisive passing.
It is why he has already drawn comparisons with Gareth Bale and not simply because they both started at Southampton.
Shaw’s talents might well be too good to be consigned to the back four and just like Bale he might soon move in to midfield.
Shaw’s brilliant consistency throughout last season earned him not only a place in England’s World Cup squad but also a place in the PFA Team of the Year and third place in the PFA Young Player of the Year award behind Eden Hazard and Daniel Sturridge.
For all the hype and accolades this season it could be that Shaw might not play a single second for England this summer.
This would be a gross mistake from Roy Hodgson.
Having been brave enough to select Shaw ahead of Ashley Cole, he should go further and hand him a starting position in his team.
The rise of Shaw this season has been irresistible and deserves to be showcased on the humid fields of Brazil next month.
Shaw has honed his talents at Southampton for the last decade, where they stress the importance of being both confident and humble.
When asked if he would be ready if Baines sustained an injury, the confident Shaw said, “I’m ready to play.”
I don’t know if it is different elsewhere but the first thing about the academy is we are brought up a very good way. We are not allowed to get big-time. Maybe at other clubs there might be players who turn professional and think they have made it. At Southampton we are not allowed to think like that, we just want to train and play to our best. If someone goes over the limit and starts acting big-time, they are quickly brought down a peg or two.
Already 2014 has brought Shaw plenty of rewards and the opportunity to act big-time, but he has always resisted, aware even greater rewards await him this summer.