Jose Mourinho backs Luke Shaw to become 'one of the best' at Manchester United - but also issues him a warning

Mourinho confirmed on Friday that the defender would feature in United's match-squad for their tie with Bournemouth before going on to praise the youngster for his potential

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Having spent much of his season away from the limelight, toiling away in the shadows as he bids to prove his worth to Jose Mourinho, Luke Shaw finally appears to have been handed the glimmer of hope needed to kick-start his Manchester United career.

After Mourinho confirmed that the defender would feature in United’s match-day squad for their Premier League tie with Bournemouth, the Portuguese went on to back Shaw to become one of the best left-backs in the game.

“In practical terms we have lots of left backs,” Mourinho said on Friday. “It doesn’t look like it but the reality is that Blind, Shaw, Rojo, Darmian are all playing left back and can play there.

“They are different players. I think the one that should be the best of all in a couple of years - because potentially he should have all the conditions to be the best - is Luke Shaw.”

It’s the sort of endorsement Shaw has desperately craved during his frustrating time at Old Trafford. The 21-year-old has been plagued by injury and illness this season as he attempts to recover, both physically and psychologically, from the horrific leg break he suffered against PVS Eindhoven in September 2015.

With just six league starts to his name this term, and a lack of stand-out performances to shout about, Shaw has gradually drifted to the periphery of the United squad, so much so that speculation has now arisen with regards to a potential summer exit.

But the omnipotent Mourinho works in mysterious ways – as his latest remarks attest to. Having conceded last month that the youngster has been suffering from a “difficult period” in his career, sparking conjecture that this was to be Shaw’s last season at Old Trafford, the United manager has now thrown his support behind the former Southampton player.

Such an endorsement does not come completely out of the blue, however. Mourinho has, on occasion this season, let it be known that he still has faith in Shaw. He insisted three months ago that he ‘needs the defender back’ in his side and, two months later, stated that the young Englishman had been showing “great character” and was “contributing well”.

The road forward, then, does not seem as bleak and daunting as it initially looked at the turn of the year.

Nonetheless, Mourinho has a record for publicly backing his players – whether rightly or wrongly. Antonio Valencia? “I think I have the best right-back in the world… I think Antonia Valencia is absolutely phenomenal,” he added on Friday. David Luiz? Has potential to be the 'best defender in the world'. Eden Hazard? Better than Cristiano Ronaldo (during the 2014/15 season…). The list goes on. Having been liberal with these sort of comments in the past, his latest words will be naturally seen as another attempt to provoke a response from Shaw. 

Manchester United players 'shocked' by Jose Mourinho's criticism of Luke Shaw

And as is to be expected with the United boss, such an admission came with one of Mourinho’s age-old warnings: namely that the 21-year-old needs to keep working, keep grinding away in a bid to unlock his true potential.

“By age, physicality, intensity, being aggressive going forward, he [Shaw] should be the best,” he added.

Shaw has a chance to prove his worth on Saturday (Getty)

“But to be the best you need to work hard. It’s what he’s trying to do.”

Such words sound familiar. Only two weeks ago Mourinho issued a rallying call to Shaw as he urged the left-back to keep “fighting hard”. "I don't have any problem and he's working well,” he said. “He's fighting hard, there is no problem with him. He has to work and wait."

With his name on the team sheet for Saturday’s Premier League clash against Eddie Howe’s visitors, Shaw now stands at a cross-road. Should he make it off the bench at Old Trafford, or even start for that matter (unlikely as that is), the defender cannot afford to buckle under the pressure. A convincing, rounded performance is what he now needs to add weight to Mourinho’s words.