Jonjo Shelvey, to me, has always been something of an enigma during his whole career. He’s immensely talented, this much is obvious, but the attitude and work ethic has always been lacking. However, this season, he seems happier, he seems rejuvenated and his on-field performances have seen a drastic improvement as a result.
Since Shelvey joined NUFC back in January 2016, he’s been very hit and miss. Under Rafa Benitez, he was in and out of the side with numerous press reports suggesting he and the boss didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye.
His vision and passing ability are phenomenal – and when he’s on form, I defy any defence in the world to defend those absolutely inch-perfect over the top through balls. As mentioned earlier though, it’s that attitude that’s always been the issue. Over the last few years I’ve watched on repeatedly as he’s strolled around the park not looking like he has any will in the world to be on that pitch. It’s a shame because when he’s on his game, he’s damn near unplayable.
However, this season, in the last month or so particularly, the 27-year-old has been like a new player entirely. He’s running hard, he’s tackling, he’s commanding his midfield and weirdly, he’s the club’s top goalscorer (5 goals in all comps). He seems to be playing with a smile on his face for the first time in his now nearly four years at the club – which is something that simply cannot be understated.
Given the comments he made to the press during pre-season and the media reports of a rift with Rafa, it’s really not surprising to see him so much happier at the moment. Steve Bruce, for all his flaws, is a great man manager – perfect for a player like Shelvey. Take a look at his comments, made to the press in China just days after the appointment of Steve Bruce:
“Steve is a lot different to Rafa,” said Shelvey. “You never knew what Rafa was thinking. His record speaks for itself and he probably didn’t need to talk to you and tell you what he’s thinking but personally as a player I’d rather have someone who talks to you and you know what he’s thinking. That’s not knocking Rafa because he was a terrific, terrific manager but for me personally it’s better.”
“… He’s constantly talking to you, telling you what he’s thinking and things like that. As a player, that’s what you want. You want to know what a manager’s thinking and where you fit in his plans. It’s good.”
These comments to me highlight that Shelvey needed the new manager. It also highlights that although he isn’t everyone’s favourites, Bruce has strengths where Rafa had weaknesses. It seems to me that while Rafa represented a typical “boss”, Bruce presents himself as more of an hand-on-the-shoulder, coach. It depends on who you are as a player on how you’ll respond to that, but Shelvey in particular seems to have responded immensely well to the new, softer approach from Bruce.
Something I also think has really helped the midfielder in recent times is the presence of that captains armband on his sleeve. Since Jamaal Lascelles picked up his injury a few weeks back, Shelvey has been deputising. Although he’s not your stereotypical loudmouth leader, constantly geeing up his team – he leads in a different, but still as effective manner. Shelvey has embodied the phrase “lead by example” in the last few games, with his work rate and sheer will to win seemingly rubbing off on those around him.
For now, Shelvey is playing like a £12million midfielder, if not better. It’s important to note he has had these patches in the past but failed to keep it up, so that consistency is what we’re going to be looking for in the coming weeks and months. He deserves a lot of credit for this new side of him, but I also strongly believe the Magpies manager Steve Bruce deserves credit for recognising the type of management Shelvey needed to grow.