It’s fair to say that last night probably represented something in the way of a chastising baptism of fire to international football, for Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross. There’s absolutely no shame in being taught a lesson by the imperious Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as the Swede did when he ran the 25-year-old ragged during his 15-minute cameo in the 4-2 loss to Sweden last night.
But as much as a learning curve it may be, Shawcross will want to push on from his initial taste of international football. It’s only in playing against the Ibrahimovic’s of this world, in which the Potters man will ever improve as a central defender. There’s probably not much he can pick up from facing Cameron Jerome in training every day, for much longer.
And if reports are to be believed, then Shawcross may soon finally get his chance to try and prove himself on a much bigger stage. Last week, not for the first time this year, the Stoke skipper has been linked with a return to Manchester United, the club in which he learnt his craft as a youngster.
On face value, it would certainly represent a slight surprise, given the resources that Sir Alex Ferguson has available to him should he go out looking for a new centre half. But given the injuries that have scorched the Manchester United defensive ranks in recent times, a January move for Shawcross would offer Fergie a proven Premier League talent at decent value aswell.
It’s easy to get a little snobbish when mulling over a move for Shawcross, with Stoke City being far from the most glamorous team within the Premier League. But don’t let that for even five minutes cloud your vision upon Shawcross’ ability. Just because his side indulge in a, shall we say, attritional style of football up at the Britannia, it doesn’t mean his talents couldn’t be equally adept within a different style of football.
His aerial gifts, reading of the game and ability to pull his sleeves up and graft for his side would work just as well at Old Trafford as they would do at the Emirates. A great talker on the pitch, he’s proven within this league and knows what it takes to keep a clean sheet.
Most importantly, he does the basics right, something that Ferguson’s team have struggled to get to grips with this season. Basic decision making is as important a trait as the ability to pick out a 40 yard pass from the back and at times this season, Shawcross’ presence would have certainly helped avoid some of the dreadful early goals United have shipped.
But while he may have come in handy a few times this season, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a good fit as a permanent addition to the Old Trafford ranks.
When the cupboards are bone bare, as Manchester United’s defensive one has looked in recent weeks, of course Shawcross would improve the side. Remember that Michael Carrick has had to be drafted in as an emergency centre half, there isn’t really any way that Shawcross wouldn’t be a step-up. Although the cupboards aren’t going to be empty forever, it’s here when you have to ask yourself whether the Stoke man would really be such a good signing.
When fit, United have a central defensive division that encompasses Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. Now although you can label the aforementioned quintet as injury prone, they don’t half possess a bit of quality. Would Ryan Shawcross really rank higher than any of them?
Even if he did come and attain solid game time, as good as Shawcross has been in the red and white of Stoke City, pulling on a Manchester United shirt is a very different prospect indeed. On their day, Shawcross and the rest of his Stoke City defense resemble a formidable unit, particularly at home. But stepping up from a tightly drilled side built around the very direct principles of Tony Pulis to the free flowing ones of Sir Alex Ferguson, represents a huge challenge.
How would Shawcross cope in a side that plays the ball out of defence, as opposed to one where he currently looks for the easier, longer option? Does he have the discipline or the ability, to step things up onto the European stage? Could he cut it with the very best?
These are all questions that Fergie has to take into consideration, but if he’s really looking for more than a bit of Premier League depth, than Ryan Shawcross might not be the answer he’s looking for.
Yes, Shawcross can cut it at the top level, but it’s difficult to see where he might find the extra gear needed to really make any form of sustained impact at Old Trafford. While he’s competent with the ball at his feet, his range of passing and distribution is of a reasonable level, but not much more. At United he’d be expected to play football, as well as defend, as that is perhaps where the litmus test lies. Getting the basics right is an undervalued commodity, but you have to have a little more to play for a title-chasing team. Whether he has that, it remains to be seen.
Ryan Shawcross would give United a tough, reliable and consistent central defender at a price that shouldn’t necessary hurt the wallet. But he equally doesn’t represent an improvement on anything that they’ve already got.
If Fergie is looking merely for some added depth, then why not give Shawcross a go? But if he’s really looking to strengthen his side, as opposed to solidify it, than he may be better off looking elsewhere.
Would you have Shawcross at United? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let me know what you think.