As part of a new initiative started by the club this season, a selection of the biggest independent Liverpool websites are invited to Melwood once a month for a Q&A session with Brendan Rodgers, the first of which took place last week. When discussing tactics, particularly regarding the midfield, he spoke of the need to have courage and patience; to be confident in your own ability when in possession, and disciplined enough to not try and force things in the final third and give the ball away needlessly. He also spoke of his willingness to give the younger players a chance, as long as they show the right attitude.
It is easy to see, then, why Jonjo Shelvey has forced his way in to Rodgers first-team plans this season; he, along with Raheem Sterling, are the two youngsters who have so far benefitted the most from working closely with the new Reds boss. Originally the idea was to send Shelvey out on loan for the season – he was offered to Swansea as part of Liverpool’s first bid for Joe Allen – but after impressing in pre-season and the early stages of the Europa League, he is now a firm part of the first-team picture at Anfield.
The natural progression from talented youngster in to first-team regular has been long in the making. When Kenny Dalglish replaced Roy Hodgson back in January of last year, Shelvey became a firm favourite of his; he would regularly feature from the bench ahead of many established players, much to the bemusement of the fans. Last season he had an extremely successful loan spell at Blackpool, scoring 6 goals in 10 games, but was recalled after Lucas suffered a season ending injury. Even though the results weren’t great he continued to see plenty of game time, and his promising form was one of the few bright spots of an otherwise disappointing campaign.
Watching Shelvey on the pitch, it is easy to forget he is still only 20 years of age. He waltzes around with an unerring swagger, is always showing for the ball and looking to use it purposefully. He is extremely vocal, too; he was famously caught on camera screaming at Andy Carroll to “get in the f**cking box” last season. It is easy to see why he has captained club and country at youth level as he’s a leader on the pitch, and his intelligent footballing brain merely highlights his precociousness. With the likes of Jack Robinson, Suso and Adam Morgan all on the peripherals of the squad and hoping to make a similar impact in the first-team, they should take note of Shelvey's rise to prominence.
Even before he moved to Merseyside, Shelvey had spoken of Steven Gerrard as a hero and inspiration of his, and still constantly refers to him as someone who has had a huge influence on him as a player.
His supreme self-confidence is an enviable trait in young players, and his development as a player is of stark contrast to that of his fellow teammate for both club and country, Jordan Henderson, who commanded a transfer fee nearly 10 times bigger than that of Shelvey’s. Henderson has all the talent and physical attributes needed to succeed at the highest level, and his attitude and professionalism are impressive, but he lacks the mentality to really fulfil his potential; Shelvey has no such problems, and it is easy to see why he has usurped Henderson’s place in the Liverpool midfield.
Even before he moved to Merseyside, Shelvey had spoken of Steven Gerrard as a hero and inspiration of his, and still constantly refers to him as someone who has had a huge influence on him as a player. Whilst claiming that Shelvey is Gerrard’s successor would do him no favours at all, there is a real burgeoning sense of excitement amongst Liverpool fans that he is the best young midfielder to play for the club since Gerrard made his debut nearly fifteen years ago, and there are certainly similarities in playing style between the two: both boast an impressive passing range and like to dictate the play; and both are just as capable of scoring from range as they are bursting beyond the forwards to finish off a move.
His impressive club form has transferred to the international setup. Shelvey’s man-of-the-match performance for the England U21’s against Azerbaijan (he scored one and set up another as Stuart Pearce’s side closed in on qualification for the UEFA Under-21 Championships) was just the latest achievement for his country at youth level. After captaining the England U16’s and U19’s, he made the transition up to the next level seamlessly - and should his meteoric rise to stardom continue, it won’t be long before he’s knocking on Roy Hodgson’s door to earn his first full cap (Hodgson will know all about him as he handed Shelvey his debut at Anfield when he was in charge).
After Brendan Rodgers was forced to reshape the squad on a limited budget due to Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli wasting somewhere in the region of £80m on mediocre homegrown talent, it make a refreshing chance to see the likes of Shelvey and Sterling, players who commanded comparatively nominal transfer fees, emerging as players who are genuinely good enough to start. Whilst Sterling is still only 17 and must be managed carefully so as not not overburden him at such an early stage of his career, Shelvey looks ready to play every week and, unless Gerrard can rediscover his form from a few seasons ago, he should start looking over his shoulder.
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