Every so often there is a new England international who is so young that when he recalls his first memories of a World Cup finals there is a collective sigh of disbelief among the middle-aged people in the room who have come to speak to him.
This time that status belongs to Luke Shaw, the baby of the World Cup squad at 18, albeit very much an established Premier League footballer. This is the teenager who is about to become a £27m footballer with Manchester United and who has denied the 107-cap Ashley Cole, the man he says he “idolised”, the chance to play at a record fourth World Cup. After two seasons in the Premier League, Shaw has not just arrived in the big time; he has kicked down the door.
It is easy to forget that he is still just out of childhood until he mentions that he is planning to take a week-long, intensive driving course after the tournament in an effort finally to get his licence. He still lives in digs with the rest of the Southampton Under-18s, although he wants to get his own place soon. He turns 19 on 12 July, the day before the World Cup final.
Like lots of his peers, the transition from life as a teenager to adulthood is in full swing for Shaw – with the difference that he has a World Cup finals to contemplate. It is a lot for an 18-year-old to deal with, which is why the Football Association sent Rickie Lambert, his Southampton team-mate, to chaperone Shaw for his first round of interviews as an England international.
As for Shaw’s first World Cup memory, it is – wait for it – Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in Bloemfontein against Germany four years ago
He seemed to enjoy the experience of his first England press conference and when the question about his club future was asked he remembered what he had been told to say: “That doesn’t bother me one bit. I am here to play for England and that is all I am focusing on.” Otherwise, it was an insight into how one of the best players of his generation found his way into the England squad at 18, after an initial rejection.
That was Chelsea, the club Shaw supported growing up in West Molesey in Surrey. “Yeah, seriously I was let go [by Chelsea] because of my height,” he said. “I think it was only when I was about 14 or 15 I got taller and bigger. I can’t remember much of being released; it was 10 years ago. I remember the first day of my trial at Southampton I got a phone call straight away to say that they wanted to take me on.”
On the Sunday night before the squad was announced he was with his Southampton team-mates at a dinner at the city’s Grand Café when news broke that Cole had been dropped and the player announced his international retirement on Twitter.
“I think everyone was waiting for that call on Sunday night,” Shaw said. “I didn’t receive one but Ashley did because he tweeted he was not going and was retiring from international football. Then I had a thought I could be going. I didn’t think I was 100 per cent going, because there is Kieran Gibbs. I waited until the next day to see the squad announced.
“When I got picked I was with my family and it was a very proud moment for me and my family and friends. It was something I had dreamt of, to represent my country at a World Cup. It is the best feeling in the world.” It had been on the cards since he made his debut against Denmark in March, coming on for Cole, who was in the midst of his first-team exile at Chelsea.
“I was a Chelsea fan when I was younger and I used to go to the games with my mates. He [Cole] was someone I idolised, the way he played his game, and I looked up to him massively. It is a really weird feeling to replace someone I have idolised. He was happy for me and congratulated me, though.”
Shaw denies that the pictures of him with his hand covering his face when he got the call-up in March had caught him in tears. “I have said it before that I wasn’t crying, but I was emotional,” Shaw said. “I was on the phone to my mum and she was crying down the phone, which got me a bit emotional. But no tears were involved.”
If the move to United does go through soon, Shaw will become of the few millionaires in the country with a provisional driving licence. This season he would get a lift to training in the morning from his now former team-mate Tom Leggett, who joined Aston Villa this month, and he painted a picture of a club that has a strong ethos in developing some of the best young British players of the last 10 years.
“I don’t know if it is any different to the other clubs but the way we get brought up [at Southampton] is very good,” Shaw said. “We are all meant to be grounded and not big-time. Maybe at other clubs there might be other players who receive a professional contract and think they have made it already.
“At Southampton we are told not to think like that; we just want to train our best and play our best. I am sure there are plenty more youngsters to come through at Southampton. If someone goes over the limit and starts acting big-time they will be brought down a peg. They will be straight with the manager and have a meeting to say, ‘This is not the Southampton way’.”
Shaw paid tribute to the work of the academy coaches Jason Dodd and Paul Williams, sacked by the club this week, whose departure he said had left him “very upset”.
Sat alongside him, Lambert, 32, has had the opposite career, having played in the Premier League only in the last two seasons. “There are not many weaknesses in Luke, he has everything,” Lambert said. “Not many people get past him. The best wingers in the Premier League won’t get the better of him. I can’t remember one.”Reuse content