I had to quit Liverpool
I had to quit Liverpool. .. I couldn't just sit on the bench and pick up the money
By RIATH AL-SAMARRAI
Jonjo Shelvey has never had a problem with his fiancee’s cooking, but he didn’t think twice about dropping his fork and charging out of the door on July 2. It just might be the most significant run of his career so far.
That morning he’d reported for Liverpool’s first pre-season session of the summer, feeling good and with a lower body-fat percentage than normal.
‘I’ve always had a problem with it, but I’d got it down,’ he says. ‘I thought I’d be able to give it a real good go to get in the team this year. I was pretty excited.’
Shelvey had read the reports linking Swansea City with him, but he’s used to ‘that stuff’.
More relevant was a chat with Brendan Rodgers scheduled for the next day, a discussion about how much playing time he might get in Steven Gerrard’s midfield. It was a conversation he’d had before with Liverpool managers.
A phone call that evening changed everything. ‘I got home and was sitting down to dinner,’ he says. ‘My missus had cooked a pasta dish. I hadn’t had a bite when my agent came on the phone, saying, “Get yourself down to Swansea”.
‘I didn’t touch my dinner.’
Liverpool had accepted an offer worth an initial £5million from Swansea.
He adds: ‘Daisy (Evans) and I just grabbed a bag and got in the car. My brother lives in Liverpool so he came and did the dishes. It was a weird journey.’
The same could be said of his career as a whole up to July 2, the trip from teenage prodigy to hyped signing to squad player to figure of fun.
There’s a YouTube video of him missing an open goal for England’s Under 21s that has been watched almost 100,000 times; another of West Ham fans chanting ‘Harry Potter, he’s coming for you’ — a reference to his apparent resemblance to Lord Voldemort — has more than 500,000 views.
On Monday, Shelvey will almost certainly line up for Swansea when Liverpool arrive at the Liberty Stadium. Michael Laudrup made a promise on the day he signed that should see to that.
The thousands of Swansea fans who used Twitter to complain about his signing have stopped moaning. Some pundits even think he should get a second England cap and Roy Hodgson didn’t seem too cold on the idea after taking charge of the Under 21 fixture against Scotland last month.
A transformation has happened, illustrating the argument that there really is no substitute for not being a substitute.
Shelvey, 21, is the deep-lying creative spark in Swansea’s midfield, composed enough to look good next to Leon Britton, but also capable of pinging a pass or making a surge.
He has started five of Swansea’s seven games in the Premier League and Europe and, with the possible exception of the defeat at Spurs, has been one of the Swans’ three best players in each of them.
Born: February 27, 1992
2002-04 Arsenal (Trainee)
2004-07 West Ham (Trainee)
2007-10 Charlton (47 appearances, eight goals)
2010-13 Liverpool (70/7)
2011-12 Blackpool on loan (10/6)
2013 Swansea (5/0)
England: One full cap. Also represented England at Under 16, 17, 19 and 21 levels.
‘It’s about confidence and knowing you’ll get game time if you do well,’ he says.
‘Game time’ is everything to Shelvey. Over the course of an hour at Swansea’s training ground, it’s a term he uses a lot.
He says: ‘Brendan (Rodgers) called me and apologised that he couldn’t give me enough game time, but he didn’t need to apologise. He’s the Liverpool manager.
Shelvey tails off. Liverpool is a tricky subject. When this interview is over he says: ‘Please don’t let me sound like I’m slating Liverpool because that’s not my intention.’
And yet his disappointment at getting only 31 starts across three seasons and all competitions is ‘quite hard to hide’. He signed as an 18-year-old from Charlton in 2010, a captain of England from the Under 16s through Under 19s.
He had some serious hype . . . the next Steven Gerrard, but that’s no great joy when the original is still kicking around.
‘It’s a big thing, trying to knock Steven Gerrard out of the team,’ he says. ‘If you had a really good game the next week you might still be out because the likes of Gerrard are coming back. Imagine that. And you can’t argue with it — it’s crazy how good he is.
'Brendan told me I could stay there and see what happened. It really was my choice. I wasn’t pushed.
‘But I wanted to play football. I would hate to be one of those sitting on my money. It is in my character, the way I was brought up. Even Brendan said, “You’re not one of these squad players happy to stand around”.’
He mentions his medal for winning the 2011-12 League Cup and the fact he was not involved in the final. ‘Even though a kid of my age should be happy winning a medal, I wanted to play,’ he says.
‘It feels like less of a medal than the next one I hopefully get.’
Talk turns to Tottenham’s £106m spree. He already knows what is going to happen to Spurs’ young talent: ‘There are lads at Spurs I feel sorry for. They aren’t going to get game time. I didn’t want that at Liverpool. I wanted to play, to get back the status that I used to have. Now I am playing.’
Laudrup said the words Shelvey wanted to hear when he finally got to Swansea on the morning of July 3. ‘He told me if I play well in a game, then I will start the next game.’
Those words were worth leaving his dinner for.
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