WHEN Daniel Sturridge passed his debut Liverpool goal in to Mansfield’s net, he did his best to look nonchalant.

Perhaps aware that putting one past a non-league side wasn’t the kind of thing Real Proper Strikers Who Play Through the Middle like what he is would go wild about, his celebration was muted.

A nod of satisfaction, a few meaningful glances around the pitch and Daniel was done.

Well, Jonjo Shelvey wasn’t having that. He’d played a lovely pass to make the goal, and Jonjo believes in celebrating. Jonjo wanted his new friend to enjoy the moment. So Daniel, sheepishly, obliged with his by-now famous dance.

For what it’s worth, it’s fine to dance. Dancing’s fun, and football should be fun. Dance all you want, Dan. You’re a better mover than anyone who gets sniffy about it will ever be.

But the moment summed up everything we’ve come to know about Shelvey. Shelvey plays with a smile and a song in his heart. Unfortunately the song is by LMFAO, but there you have it.

Jonjo says he prefers to play as a number 10 as there’s less defensive work to do. Jonjo likes getting the ball and doing things with it. Jonjo likes to celebrate.

All of these things are fine, even admirable. But they add up to fragments of a player, not a cohesive whole.

People speak of Shelvey as a deputy for Steven Gerrard, yet that’s been a largely redundant role this season given the captain’s run of fitness. So Shelvey must make a case for inclusion on his own merits.

Brendan Rodgers has tried inordinately hard to make this happen. Shelvey has played in a midfield three, as a wide forward and, in the absence of Luis Suarez, a striker.

While he has shown promise in all three positions, it is hard to escape the feeling that Liverpool have often been a less effective side with Shelvey than without.

Perhaps this is unfair. In the Europa League in particular the former Charlton man has stood out in terms of quality and leadership, and there is always a sense he might make something happen.

This latter attribute is what so endears him to many fans. He often does pretty much what the man on the Kop believes footballers should devote all their time to (90% shooting, 10% ‘putting him under’).

Shelvey is a gift to anyone who ever chanted ‘attack, attack, attack’ as a Benitez side filed its nails on the way to a sixth 2-0 win on the bounce, a Pinocchio figure willed into being by their urge for a real boy who’ll just stop faffing about and have a go.

That his name is sung more than anyone other than, arguably, Gerrard and Suarez (Jose Enrique might have a case here), is ludicrous and yet wholly explicable. Shelvey has no air of diffidence. He is the anti-Downing. His self-belief radiates.

And he has ability. Managers as different in approach as Benitez, Rodgers and Hodgson (in twinkly-eyed England manager guise) agree. This lad can play.

Can he, though, play in Liverpool’s midfield? Compelling evidence that he can is thin on the ground. If the success of Gerrard as a deep-lying midfielder is to continue it will rely on the screening presence of two pragmatic, energetic midfielders well equipped to press the opposition. The club has three of those, and none of them was born in Romford.

The wide option has been tried, but a lack of pace and, at times, guile, must mitigate against that as any kind of long-term solution. With the arrival of Sturridge, impending return of Fabio Borini and the suggestion Raheem Sterling may begin to add more end product to his game, chances there will surely be limited.

The opportunity to nail down a permanent place may elude Shelvey for the near future. While Gerrard is around it’s hard to see how he can be accommodated regularly.

This leaves two obvious possibilities. Either Shelvey considers a move to a club with a hero-shaped hole in their squad and becomes a latter-day Matt Le Tissier, or he bides his time, takes the games he can get in a range of positions and learns.

The England cap, the songs, the big games he’s already played in shouldn’t blind Shelvey to the fact he remains a very young player.

Patience, from player, manager and – perhaps most importantly – his adoring public – might well be a virtue worth pursuing.


  1. Yep.

    Can’t help but wonder what he’ll be like when he’s 28 and what his position will be. Can’t even begin to guess at the minute.

  2. He is only 20, he’s got a lot of time to find his spot. He’s energetic, has a good pass on him and can finish. He’ll make a good attacking midfielder with a little refinement and maturity.

    In his current guise, I don’t see him as the 10/pointy bit of Rodgers’ midfield triangle, but he may yet prove me wrong.

    Good signs of him linking up with Sturridge already. We’ve got a lot of Londoners on our books these days. Miss the Spaniards, truth be told…

  3. Paul Mitchel

    All the points you make are valid, however there is one aspect you haven’t mentioned. He’s 20! not 23 or 24 and he has loads to improve upon, but he’s at the age where he is only going to get better. This should coincide with the team getting better as most of the team is under 26 these days. I don’t think Gerrard was that good at 20 (though he was pretty awesome at 21).

    However, Jonjo is not the new Gerrard, that’s because there won’t be a new Gerrard because he was a one in a million. Hopefully Jonjo can be a adequate player in a team that can pass and move and score from midfield.

    That’s all we need him to be at present.

    • Gerrard was shit hot from the off, and I say that with no hesitation. There’s never been a point in his career that I have ever wondered is this kid going to make it or not in terms of his talent or performances, maybe more to do with the time he spent out injured in his breakthrough phase, maybe. I like Jonjo a lot, but I would take Gerrard even at 18 over Jonjo now ten times out of ten.

  4. Robin Crimes

    Firstly, lets hope we never see that goal celebration again.
    Secondly, although you haven’t, it’s a bit early to write Shelvey off after a few below average games. If he could hone in some of his attributes then he has the making of a good player. There’s no place for him in the league games but I think there is in the cup games. I think it’s good to have him in the squad. I like his hunger.

  5. well written. Shelvey has flashes of being a game changing force in attack. But it rarely comes off. He has comically mis-hit quite a few good chances this season. And he has shown a tendency to give the ball away in dangerous places/ways. He doesn’t press well, either. But he is not afraid. Sometimes it looks like Henderson, Shelvey and Suso are one brilliant player split into three. The fact that Liverpool have so few goals/assists from their number 10 position, in the league anyway. John Gibbbons point about his development being best served away from Liverpool is a very good one. It woukd be great if we could send him to Swansea, Villa or Wigan

  6. I really like Shelvey, always have since I first saw him play for us. Maybe it was partly because he was coming on as a substitute in a very poor Hodgson midfield (I think he came on for Poulson), but it really struck me, given how young and inexperienced he was, how he was able to bring structure and backbone to an otherwise weak formation, confidently staking out his area and directing people around him. For me this, and some of the Europa league games this season, are the glimpses of what he will be like when he is 28. Someone to build a team around, a dominating spirit with a strong understanding of the space around him, who can work out other teams and direct his team accordingly.

    He will never have the dynamism of Gerrard, but like Gerrard he is a leader and a director in the making, and this is the reason I don’t think we have seen the best of him in the league. Firstly, because he is young and it takes a long time to develop into that role, and secondly because Gerrard currently plays the lead role in our team, leaving Shelvey as only part of the supporting cast.

    All that said, I do worry about how clumsy, slow and short of legs he looks sometimes, and have to agree with Tom Hoppe’s Shelvey/Suso/Henderson superstar player idea. I reckon he should be able to cover his lack of speed with good positioning, a bit like Zidane did (not that he is the next Zidane, but I think they have some similarities), so that may not be so much of a problem, however, he really needs to improve his first touch, which has been woeful at times. I am fervently hoping this is just a consequence an awkward growing phase he is going through at the moment that will sort itself out in a couple of years when he fills out a bit, kind of the opposite to what happened to Andy Carroll (I got very excited about watching a young Andy Carroll on YouTube but to me it seemed like he lost his fluidity as he matured put on more muscle).

    If not, then maybe he is not going to work out for us and Shelves, but that would be real shame because for mine, he definitely has the tactical understanding to be a great player, which you would expect given the strong backing he has received from both Benitez and Rodgers.

    PS Just reread your article Steve, and realise I have pretty much just repeated what you said. One thing I disagree with though is that I reckon the reason that Rodgers has played Shelvey in all those different positions is not because he is looking to accommodate Shelvey but rather that our squad is so thin at the moment that there was no one to play there and Shelvey can at least understand what he wants from those positions (West Ham in particular), even if his physical attributes don’t particularly suit them.

    • Okay, my last post got me thinking about zidane so I just watched a compilation of him on YouTube. Please forget I ever mentioned him my last post, I had inexcusably forgotten just how good he was. Even if jonjo exceeds everyone’s expectations he should never be used in the same sentence, no matter how qualified.

      Still reckon my point about compensating for lack of speed with good positioning has some merit, but watching zidane made me realise that jonjo is going to have to improve is tight control by a long way to get away with it against quality opposition. If only we could sign the next zidane (if such a person ever exists again)!

  7. this is what should happen: send him out on loan for the rest of the season. it would do him so much good. and us as well.

  8. Interesting piece, Steve, It’s hard to know where best to play Shelvey.

    He has the best shooting accuracy in the Liverpool squad this season, and one of the best in the whole league, yet rarely looks like scoring. He is also rash in the tackle, which no-one needs reminding of ahead of the rematch with United this weekend!

    I have high hopes for him, but there’s still a long way to go.

  9. Aman Narang

    He does have attacking instinct in abundance but his first touch and close range passing at times are just attrocious. Unless he significantly improves on that, I don’t see him ever prospering for a top side.

  10. good article..the jury is definately out on Jonjo, his name sort of identifies him for me, “jack the (cockney) lad” & dont truly feel like a REd to me, playing for fun, and to impress his buddies?..dont see him as a future REdS capt, and whilst he certainly has talent, dont feel he has a Liverbird on HIS chest.. the comparison with Gerrard is ridiculous, sure he is young.. and although almost everything can be improved.. my gut says no, enjoy him as a squad player, but I predict a move to a London club within the next couple of seasons, at a decent profit for Lfc,

  11. He fucked Ferguson off. He’s a fucking legend.

  12. stephen martin

    Anyone who tells Fergie where to go, to his face, deserves a place in the squad !! If BR does it on Sunday, he can stay forever !!

  13. I do like Shelvey’s spirit, but since the red card v. the Mancs he has started avoiding tackling which really limits his usefulness, as it was something that set him apart from Henderson and Allen. More worrying is the way he is so casual at times – like Glen Johnson on an off day but without having earned the right. Hope this isn’t a sign that we have spoiled him and he is jaded already. He is nowhere near Gerrard at that age, but could develop into an interesting option if he doesn’t get too big for his boots. I feel he has learned less and improved less than Sterling this year.

  14. ” Unfortunately the song is by LMFAO”

    This made me LOL.

  15. Mark McGrath

    Put him on the manc bench beside old purple nose just in case he tries to step out of line.

  16. Shelvey is garbage. He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow and god knows how he was offered a professional contract with one of the greatest clubs on Earth.

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