We take a look at how a quiet lad from London is propelling to fame
When Rafa Benitez plucked an 18-year-old from the depth of League One to ‘strengthen’ his midfield and compensate for the departure of Xabi Alonso almost a year prior, and also forking out almost £2m for the pleasure, there was a sense of desperation around Anfield.
Jonjo Shelvey was your typical football enthusiast. A strong and commanding central midfield player who loved to score goals, and at the age of just 16 he became Charlton Athletic’s youngest-ever player. Born in Romford, London, Shelvey took part in youth games with Arsenal and West Ham United before settling in Charlton’s youth academy; a move which proved to be the correct one.
Shelvey flourished at the Valley, and quickly made himself a regular starter in the first team despite his age. His role just behind the striker saw him exceed any expectations that his seniors had hoped for and his form immediately caught the attention of England’s top flight sides. During his spell in South-London he scored 7 goals in 42 appearances, which is a respectable record for someone not even old enough to drive himself to training.
The teen was flooded with natural ability. His powerful frame aided his robust style-of-play, and his energy failed to disable his agility on the ball. His vision and creativeness made him superior to a large percentage of the league he was applying his trade in and Charlton were unable to retain his services when Liverpool came sniffing.
His start in Merseyside was staggered and deflated in comparison to the level of performances he had showcased in League One, but that was expected. He adopted a more defensive role on his arrival at the club, being involved with less of the free-flowing attacking play, and more with the niggly defending side of things, somewhat hindering the England under 19 captain, and he was rapidly creating a negative reputation from spectators. Shelvey featured frequently for Roy Hodgson when he took charge of the Reds, and arguably it was the team’s torrid form that absorbed the talent from the starlet.
The return of Kenny Dalglish saw Shelvey being shipped out on loan to Championship outfit Blackpool. He made an instant impact, scoring on his debut for the club in a 5-0 victory over Bristol City and he continued to blossom as a result of a return to his favoured position and scored his first professional hattrick against Leeds United in November of 2011. It seemed to be a move that was correct for all three parties, but due to an injury crisis at his parent club Liverpool, Shelvey was recalled and left Blackpool with a heavy heart.
In the second half of the 2011/12 season, Shelvey showed why he was so highly rated amongst the footballing world. He carries a relaxed aura with him on the field, a calm, composed player undeterred by his lack of experience. He has fast become a familiar face in the Liverpool midfield, especially now they have a new manager; Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers’ passing philosophy has complimented Shelvey beautifully. In a midfield trio alongside ‘Mr Liverpool’ Steven Gerrard and a player whose passing accuracy matches that of Xavi’s in Joe Allen, Shelvey is swiftly excelling in his individual game.
After securing a long term deal in the summer, his performances have rivalled that of any other central midfield player in the Premier League as of yet. You can almost feel the 20-year-old’s confidence slapping you in the face as he struts around the centre of the field, he knows he has the potential to slice defences in half with his vision and tenacity in the final third, and when he gets a peek of goal, he is not afraid to take his opportunities. He proved this with his 2 goals from the bench in Liverpool’s tie with Young Boys in the Europa League, and he followed it up with a sublime goal against Udinese in the same competition.
Shelvey is a born winner, the mentality of a champion, and you can fathom his desire through the tenacity he exudes whilst representing his club’s jersey. After a committed 50/50 challenge recently with Jonny Evans of Manchester United, Shelvey picked up his first red card of his career and perhaps channelled his frustrations incorrectly. In such an intense derby, he may have felt like he let his team down but his gesturing towards Sir Alex Ferguson as he was escorted off the pitch were, in Shelvey’s own words, ‘a disgrace’ and he promptly apologised after the game.
The prospect has just been called up to Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland, and he thoroughly deserves his spot. If he keeps up his momentous form, not only will Liverpool have one of the most notable young players in the country, but perhaps will have someone to liberate Steven Gerrard’s arm-band in the near future.