The responses were as instant as they were predictable. It was the summer of 2014, and Manchester United were interested in a talented young English left back.
“Luke Shaw should stay at Southampton, it’s important for his development.”
“Luke Shaw should show some loyalty to the team that made him, not jump for a paycheck.”
It was a resounding message from media outlets and former players alike, and not an uncommon one. Raheem Sterling was accused of the same this summer. There was a sliver of truth: Luke Shaw was going to get a significant pay raise, and there was a small risk he would not get the playing time he needed to develop into the player he can be. And while the argument wrongly discredits Shaw’s contributions to his own development, it is true that Southampton, over the course of 11 years, had invested in and contributed significantly to Shaw’s development.
Fast forward to the present day. After a shaky first year plagued by injuries, Shaw was finally proving the critics wrong. He had finally grinded into form and become a rare bright spot in the otherwise dour start of Manchester United’s season. But it only took one moment, a sudden and devastating slide tackle, for that development to be stopped in its tracks.
Now Shaw faces months of rehab before he can even walk again, months more until he can kick a soccer ball. And, with a compound fracture of both of his lower leg bones, it remains to be seen if he will ever be able to reach the same level again. This isn’t to say he can’t return — Aaron Ramsey suffered a similar injury and is playing better than ever — but history tells us that’s an aberration; this is usually a career-stunting, if not a career-ending, injury.
SEE MORE: Shaw scheduled for second surgery on Friday.
So as the cameras zoomed in on Shaw face’s on Tuesday, choking back tears through his oxygen mask, it was hard not to think of those who called him greedy just a year ago.
It’s part of a recurring theme in soccer and sports fandom at large: turning athletes into commodities. We can sit at our desks and pinpoint the difference between a $20 million player and a $25 million player. We can look at a wage bill and say this player is worth $90,000 per week while another is worth $150,000. Often, it’s used as ammunition against certain clubs. This club is doing things right, while another is doing things wrong.