It is overcast in Singapore but it does not spoil the view from the Fullerton Bay hotel rooftop. The landmark Marina Bay Sands hotel, its three towers levitating like something from Blade Runner, dominates the background and soon provides the backdrop for a Manchester United photocall.
Downstairs, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Eric Bailly are attending a sponsor’s event and on the roof four more players have arrived for another commercial commitment. Luke Shaw, Mason Greenwood, David de Gea and Diogo Dalot are conspicuous by the replicas they are wearing, each bearing their name and squad number.
Greenwood, 17, is fresh from his matchwinner against Inter Milan and a Ryan Giggs comparison the previous night. The parallels extend to media activity. Like Giggs at 17, Greenwood is off limits during a Q&A. The compere manages to draw blood out of a stone by getting De Gea to reveal he once holidayed in Singapore. Full-backs Shaw and Dalot do most of the talking and politely answer some innocuous queries.
The quartet pose for pictures with fans and then saunter past the rectangular transparent pool and back down the elevators to the ground floor for media engagements.
A DJ has been playing UB40’s Red Red Wine on the rooftop and the tune is so firmly stuck in Dalot’s head he is whistling it as he breezes down the steps. Greenwood asks a press officer if he can relax away from the glare of cameras and De Gea has a picture with some newlyweds, ensuring their marriage is in safe hands. Shaw is elected to speak to us.
We have been here before. It is almost a year to the day since this correspondent huddled around Shaw in the hushed indoor balcony overlooking the Beverly Hills Montage hotel’s Marquesa ballroom. It was there Shaw gave a candid self-assessment of his fitful four years with United and addressed body shaming.
Now Shaw’s future is secure. He has earned that contract, is the reigning players’ and fans’ player of the year and an undisputed first-teamer. Much has changed but Shaw’s physique has not. He is a muscular presence and patently dispelled qualms about his conditioning as he approaches his sixth season with United.
Whether it is raw or considered, Shaw is an excellent talker and amiable company. His holiday tan is still in tact and his highlights nearly as bright as those full beam teeth. Shaw’s parents flew out to Perth – where they have friends – for the first leg of United’s pre-season schedule and their son’s buoyant demeanour is not much different from last year’s tense tour of the United States. The positivity is coursing through the rest of the United squad this time.
On holiday last year in Dubai, Shaw received a reassuring WhatsApp message from Jose Mourinho. This summer, he struggled to switch off, too. “It was really tough for all of us to take,” he says of the numbing 2018-19. “And you couldn’t really enjoy your holidays. And you see the Champions League final and the Europa League final and they’re all English teams. It makes you feel even worse and especially the way the finals went. None of us want that to happen again.
“Last season was so hurtful for everyone. I know the fans were really hurt, but we as a team were very hurt. For sure, this season it will be a new United. They won’t have it as easy as last season and people are probably already doubting us, but they can carry on doing that. For me and for us as a team we know what we are capable of doing and we will have a much better season than last season.
“I think that’s why we’ve all come back again with a different mindset and, of course, we had that break to clear our minds. But now we’re all focused on getting United back to where they belong and not let the teams that we’ve seen in the finals have it that easy.”
It is appropriate Shaw takes the mic on the rooftop. He is 24 now and a seasoned Premier League veteran of seven seasons. The average age of the United squad is dwindling with two 21-year-old recruits and four teenagers promoted to the senior squad. Shaw must be confident of assuming an casual leadership role?
“I’ve been through it and I know what new players and young players need,” he explains. “They are quite experienced enough. I know they are young, but they are quite level-headed and know what they need to do.
“Of course I’m always here to help if they need and to give advice, help them settle in nicely and most importantly enjoy their time at the biggest club in the world.”
Shaw’s shyness has subsided in time and United have another quiet full-back in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, reserved off the pitch but rampant on it. There are similarities between the introverts and Shaw has been struck by his new teammate.
“He’s been amazing and obviously Daniel [James], but more for Aaron because he’s in my position, he’s been unbelievable. He already looks like he’s been here for a while.
“We are really looking forward to seeing more of him this pre-season and at the start of the season. They’ve both settled in really well. You never know, there might be a couple of new faces, but so far, so good. Hopefully they both keep that up.”
Could Wan-Bissaka coax more adventure out of Shaw? “The manager knows what I’m capable of and he’s always been with me since he’s come in.”
When Shaw says he has been ‘through it’ the spectres of Mourinho and Louis van Gaal reappear. A month into Shaw’s United career, Van Gaal said ‘he is not very fit’. Shaw endured such a variable relationship with Jose Mourinho both of his siblings aired their dismay over separate incidents on Twitter.
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Shaw eventually won Mourinho over but the smile he breaks into as he discusses the more avuncular Solskjaer suggests his former manager is still on his mind.
“Obviously Ole’s come in, he’s been brilliant with me and he’s always having talks with me and knows what I can do and believes in me massively. And that’s the one thing you want in a club is the manager – to believe in you so much.”
The emphasis is on believe.
“And it’s for me to put his faith back to him with performances. The most important thing now for me is to work hard and keep fit and obviously just start the season really well.”
Solskjaer is attempting to develop a more intense attacking approach and Wan-Bissaka and Shaw are bound to be judged more on what they do in the final third than their own third. The United pre-season training regime has been meticulously planned to focus on higher energy and intensity.
The attacking quartet were pressed so high up for goal kicks against Inter Milan they were on the edge of Samir Handanovic’s area. A four-pronged attack with buccaneering full-backs is a more recognisable United than what supporters have watched for most of the last six years.
“Last night [against Inter] with the heat and the way the game went, I feel we looked a lot better than we probably have for a while,” Shaw opines. “Ole is more focused on keeping the ball, playing out from the back and keeping possession. A lot of times last season we didn’t do that well enough. On the front foot as well with the pressing.
“Now we know as a team what the manager wants and what his ideas are for us as players to go out and do on the pitch. It’s great because we all know what we need to do.
“Last season was a massive disappointment. How other teams were doing as well – especially over the period when we had time off, there were teams winning trophies. It was very disappointing.
“It will be a new United this season, especially with the new ideas the manager is bringing in. They are very good ideas and I think the way and what kind of players we have it will benefit the way the manager wants to play.
“We’ve worked a lot on tactics, pressing-wise. When to go, what sort of moments. The other side of that is to keep the ball. He wants us to play out from the back, there are a couple of different rules now where you can go into the box and we have worked on that in training. Just to keep the ball more and play as a big team, a good team. We want to be winning games, but with possession as well.”
A new United is something to shout from the rooftops.
Luke Shaw was speaking at an event in Singapore to launch the new Manchester United sunglasses club collection by Maui Jim, the club’s official vision partner.
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