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The coming of age of Jonjo Shelvey

Jonjo Shelvey, the player has always been likened to a pendulum that swings between the sublime and the ridiculous. A rich vein of form has been rewarded with an England call up, and Aakriti Mehrotra writes about the underlying maturity that’s driving this run of success.

Jonjo Shelvey Swansea 2015

While football fans are generally an angry bunch, Liverpool fans might be slightly worse. In the last three years, there haven’t been many decisions or instances they have all agreed upon. The decision to let go of a bald, talented 21-year-old was such an occasion. Liverpool have seven points on board and have won two games and drawn a tough away fixture against Arsenal. But a major issue with the Reds is the dearth of creativity, especially in the midfield. No wonder Liverpool fans feel like it was criminal to let the player go. But in fairness to Brendan Rodgers (and Steven Gerrard), the midfielder admitted that the Liverpool manager tried his best to make him stay. “He spent hours on the phone to my dad in an effort to try and get me to stay. But I had made up my mind to come”, said Shelvey.

But Brendan Rodgers advised the right place for the player, who subsequently made the correct decision to go there and play every week. His first season with the club was a successful one, his best till date with in terms of numbers with 6 goals and 6 assists. Last season, Shelvey was just about okay – 3 goals and 5 assists along with betterment in defensive aspects of the game. But the major issue with him was his temperament. Garry Monk publicly criticized the player for being “lazy” and asked him to wise up, or watch his club play from the sidelines. He said that while Shelvey’s ability was absolutely frightening, he is lazy in pushing himself and applying that ability.

Monk was absolutely right. The player’s ability has so often been overlooked because the facade of (stupid) aggression was overpowering.

Public criticism can be hard to take for a lot of players, and in Shelvey’s case, Monk’s remarks were followed up with a disastrous performance against Liverpool at Anfield after which the 23-year-old received a four match ban because of his clash with Emre Can. But the player admitted in an interview that both Monk’s remarks and that particular ban made him realize it was time to grow up. 

And sure enough, Shelvey has grown up, and grown into his role at Swansea. Due to Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis’ wonderful form, people are forgetting how important Shelvey has been to the club’s emphatic start to the season that includes a win over Manchester United along with a draw at Stamford Bridge.

His statistics from this season, granted it is 4 games old, are absolutely brilliant. He has played 359 minutes of football (was taken off against Manchester United in the 89th minute). He averages an incredible 3.5 key passes every 90 minutes. He has averaged 64 passes per game which is significantly more than his previous seasons. Not only that, he is also dribbling more, and offering more through balls. He has a good passing accuracy with almost 84%. Not to mention, he still remains a threat with his crossing. This means that he is being extremely productive on the pitch and taking control of proceedings. The £5m Swansea paid for him a couple of years back really seems like a bargain. 

His manager deserves a lot of credit in his revival as well. The calculated risk of reprimanding him privately as well as publicly seems to have paid dividends. Shelvey too has acknowledged his manager’s role and has not been shy while hailing Monk. He has not only given the manager his due credit, but also claimed that the 36-year-old has the attributes to become the England boss one day.

Some fans have bizarrely claimed that Shelvey being called to the national side by Roy Hodgson means that there is a dip in the quality England is producing at the moment and that there is no one better out there. That is extremely harsh and really isn’t the case. The player has made amends both on and off the pitch.

He has employed a personal fitness instructor, along with a personal chef, something Gareth Bale’s agent also suggested he do when he was at Tottenham. He has reduced his body fat to between 11 and 12 per cent and is close to the 10 percent target set by his manager.

On the pitch, the issue was temperament more than anything else and Shelvey really does look like someone who has matured and come of age. A call-up to the national side is thus, not surprising at all and it in a way, perfectly illustrates how far Shelvey has come along. He earned his first and only England cap in October 2012, in a win against San Marino. It is poetic that three years later, he could make his return to the side against the same opposition.

Jack Wilshere is once again missing from the squad and England must be getting used to the fact that the talented midfielder is just too injury-prone to be relied upon. This could be Shelvey’s chance to make a mark and impress Hodgson. Could he be an unexpected answer to England’s lack-of-creativity-from-the-midfield issues?

Monk said after the player was named in England’s squad, “He is working hard and we are giving him all the help we can to make sure we get the best Jonjo. You can see what a fantastic player he is, but I think there is a hell of a lot more to come. We can easily get another 20 to 30 per cent out of Jonjo. We can unlock something really special and that’s my job. He’s working in a really good way I’m very happy with him.”

If another 20 percent can come out of this same Jonjo Shelvey, England and Swansea might have a really threatening player on the cards.

Written by Aakriti Mehrotra

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