In the first few weeks of the Premier League season, Swansea City looked in line for a top-half of the table finish. Gary Monk’s side was playing glorious football, Bafétimbi Gomis was scoring for fun and Jonjo Shelvey was running games in the midfield. In Swansea City’s early season match at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, Shevley dominated the midfield against all-world talents in Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, helping the Swans secure a 2-2 draw against the defending champs.
Three months later, the only thing about that scene that doesn’t seem surprising is that Chelsea were outclassed at home. Since then, things have fallen apart for Swansea, who went from competing for a Europa League spot to the relegation zone rather quickly. Monk is gone and now so is Shelvey, who was shipped off to Newcastle for a modest $17 million transfer fee.
Shelvey was a very good player for the Swans, but the end of his time at the Liberty Stadium seemed to be coming to an end when Monk was sacked. He always seemed to be out of favor with interim manager Alan Curtis, and disciplinary and injury-related issues made for good excuses for Shelvey to be kept out of the lineup even when he was fully fit.
Shelvey has traversed a fare amount of Premier League territory for someone who is 23. He was an Arsenal and West Ham youth product before playing his first professional football for Charlton Athletic. Liverpool signed him in 2010 but mostly kept him on the bench for three seasons, making Shelvey’s stay at Anfield a rather uneventful one. Swansea came calling in 2013 and his tenure in south Wales seemed to be going well.
He signed a contract extension in July to keep him at the club until 2019 and he was a big part of the team’s flying start this season, but by the end of his Swansea stint he was complaining about critical fans and rarely featuring even in league cup matches.
Now Shelvey finds himself at a new club, one where the fans will adore him and where he will be afforded ample opportunities to see that his massive amount of potential is finally realized. Shelvey has the look of a repugnant ball winner, and though he has a penchant for rowdy and often unnecessary antics, he does possess a peculiar creative sense that is going to bolster Newcastle’s attacking prowess.
He is an organizing presence the likes of which Newcastle have been sorely lacking this season. Georginio Wijnaldum, who arrived at St. James’ Park from PSV in the summer for $22 million, brought a spark and a strong will to score goals, but even players as good as Wijnaldum, who is now operating as the Magpies No. 10, have their productivity capped without a reliable quality of service.
Enter Shelvey, an impossibly youthful and stabilizing presence who can pick a pass any where on the field from his perch in the middle of the park. When he gets on the ball, defenders all over the pitch must be aware of their surroundings, because his range of vision extends beyond the touchlines. In his debut for Newcastle, Shelvey picked apart his boyhood club, completing 91.7 percent of his team-high 60 passes while getting 71 touches, just one off of the team high.
Shelvey didn’t have any official box score stats, but he did make both of Newcastle’s goals with stunning passes. Ayoze Perez’s opener came at the end of a move where Shelvey switched play to the flanks, then stepped into the hole to link up with Wijnaldum, who slid the ball over the Perez for the goal.
Ten minutes later, Shelvey found himself on the ball 10 yards behind midfield without a defender in his zip code. With so much space in front of him, Shelvey picked out an unthinkable pass and delivered the ball with impeccable precision to Daryl Janmaat, whose first touch helped put him in position to cross the ball to Wijnaldum for the match-clinching goal.
With Janmaat flying forward and making runs down the touchline, Shelvey was active and ardent in giving his centerbacks an outlet by dropping near the backline. When play moved forward, so did he, and he became an oft-available reference point in the middle of the field. Newcastle boss Steve McClaren likened Shelvey to the offensive organizer in American football, aptly describing his play against West Ham as quarterback like.
Paired with a disruptive force like Jack Colback, who will do a lot of the dirty work in chasing down the ball while helping keep the backline in tune, Shelvey has the freedom to control the game in the midfield. Newcastle will benefit from Shelvey’s incisive passing and his democratic distribution. He won’t change the way Newcastle play, but he will dictate the Magpies ability to execute their style.