When Brendan Rodgers arrived at Anfield last summer, his admiration for England under-21 international Jonjo Shelvey was no secret. It was clear that Rodgers saw Shelvey as a long term successor to Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard in some form, with regular public backing for the youngster in Liverpool’s TV documentary Being: Liverpool. So with Shelvey offloaded to Swansea two weeks ago, it seems the midfielder has suffered a rather ungraceful demise. But where did it all go wrong?
Following distinctly average performances from the likes of Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin, as well as an injury to Lucas, Shelvey was handed his first Premier League start of the season against Sunderland on September 15, 2012. This was backed up by two goals in the Europa League midweek, after which a greater amount of progress was expected. Instead what followed was a debatable red card after a somewhat naïve tackle. Many will find this excusable given the youngster’s inexperience in Liverpool clashes with Manchester United; In fact in many ways the tackle echoed a young Steven Gerrard, whereby heart ruled head. The real disappointment for Rodgers and Liverpool fans was what followed.
In the coming months Shelvey was handed regular starts and substitute appearances in an inconsistent Liverpool side. Here there were regular opportunities for the youngster to impress in his favored role behind the striker. However reality proved different. Shelvey’s performances were lackluster, and he often looked confused positionally. He regularly lost the ball in dangerous positions. He dropped far deeper than Rodgers wanted and he required 3 or 4 more touches than his team mates. Here Shelvey was being thoroughly outperformed by a then 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, who looked composed, skillful and creative — everything Rodgers was after in Shelvey. One positive in Shelvey’s game was his ability to arrive in the box at the right time. However for someone supposedly so technically gifted, he spurned opportunities time and time again, resulting in growing frustrations amongst both his manager and the fans. His lack of composure and positional sense was worrying for a team trying to develop, and this was not a team who could afford to continue to drop points.
Now Rodgers was ready to give Jordan Henderson his chance, and unfortunately for Shelvey he instantly delivered. Henderson’s introduction into the side injected the intensity and balance Rodgers was looking for, while Henderson also seemed to show a greater desire and work rate both on and off the field. From here it looked like Henderson was the midfield key to Rodgers’ future Liverpool.
To be fair to Shelvey, he was not helped by a wealth of factors, none more so than being surrounded by underperforming senior players when given his chance in the first team. As for the future, if anyone has the ability to get the best out of Shelvey’s capabilities, it is Michael Laudrup, while it may also suit Shelvey to drop down a level where he can play with far less expectation.