Striking through a ball like a stallion strikes through a prairie. The sweat slicked slack of a jaw catching the glare of a morning light. Amorphous positional sensibilities, with legs allergic to sprinting. Preferring to make the ball cover the distance, instead. A direct, borderline monosyllabic, clarity of thought about the game. Facemelting thunderbastards. We'll remember the lot, sweet Jonjo Shelvey.
Taken too soon from Liverpool Football Club, Jonjo Shelvey is an interesting player to consider as Swansea City make the trip to acquaint themselves with Jürgen Klopp's lads. Originally signed by Rafa Benitez for £1.7m, the Londoner has more or less flourished since escaping Brendan Rodgers' breathy clutches and signing for the Swans.
Time on his side, a clear eye for a pass, the streak for the audacious, and a maturing understanding of his position all make Shelvey something approaching the player he was touted to be as an 18 year old Charlton Athletic academy graduate. But what is interesting to consider isn't that Shelvey is a talented player in a good situation for his playing development, it's that he was all of those things for Liverpool and no longer is.
Shelvey's not the only one to have shined young and then been deemed surplus to requirements through the Brendan Rodgers era. Suso, Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Brad Smith--the names can go on as long as your wikipedia searches can. Part of this is due to the natural attrition of this age group where a player is skilled enough and physically ready enough for first team football, but the inexperience counts against them in a bottom-line business. But run through those names again and one sees a bit of a startling pattern emerge: all of these guys were supposed to be the homegrown feathers in Rodgers' youth acumen cap. And yet none of them were kept around long enough to see each fulfill their potential in Red.
Raheem Sterling's is an example apart, perhaps, but all of Suso, Shelvey, Wisdom, Lazar, and Smith had offered as much talent, if not more, than the players being chosen ahead of them in their respective positions. They had also all had enough periods of involvement in the first team picture that one would be forgiven to think they were going to be kept around as squad pieces, at the very least. What happened?
In Shelvey's case, the idea was that the Englishman wanted and needed minutes to develop, but that with Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson around, those minutes couldn't be guaranteed. At the time it made a sort of sense. In retrospect, though, Gerrard should not have been counted on as the nailed on deep lying starter, Lucas was never favored, Joe Allen was never fit, and Jordon Henderson's skill set fits pretty well combined with Shelvey's skill set either in a three man midfield, or in a two against the right teams and scenarios. Losing him was unnecessary from a squad numbers perspective, so long as Rodgers could have offered a fair crack at minutes to all midfielders willing to demonstrated an aptitude for consistently midfielding.
Even now, under Klopp, where the system doesn't wholly appear to suit what Shelvey's about, the young Englishman has actually shown growth in weak parts of his game--tackling, positioning, covering, maintaining a cool, focused head during the game. Klopp has gone on record multiple times already talking about how important and cool training a player is. Given the absurd passing range, the field-wide vision, the shooting ability, and the streak for the audacious that Jonjo possesses, it's hard to imagine Klopp not finding enough to be getting on with on the training pitch there.
One thing Shelvey should provide is an example to the new regime at Liverpool. There is young talent at this club, or on loan from this club, and it is absolutely worth paying close attention to on the training pitch. Jonjo's talent levels are mirrored in the Kents, Ojos, and Teixeiras of Liverpool's world. His story is mirrored in the Lazar Markovic's, Tiago Ilori's, and Luis Alberto's of Liverpool's world. These guys need to be given a proper season of hugs. Lazar Markovic is a potential world beater. Andre Wisdom is not a bad talent to have as a rotational piece of a back-four defensive setup.
It's not that these players are guaranteed to succeed in Red, it's that they're guaranteed not to if they're given the runaround at that stage of development. And that's the pattern Liverpool were falling into before Klopp arrived. That's a pattern that absolutely needs to be reversed if Liverpool are going to make a title-winning go of it. Thankfully, the early indications under Klopp are that he is serious about this whole training of the next global superstars fetish that he has going on. Long may that continue.
As for Shelvey? Mercifully, he's not playing against Liverpool today, but he'll be just fine. Fare thee well, young Jonjo—ye of 2Namez—we will continue to cheer you on with the rapturous joy you deserve, regardless of colors. YNWA.