Louise Taylor on 14 September 2018
Rafael Benítez has urged Gareth Southgate to think again about Jonjo Shelvey and offer the midfielder a chance to prove he can be the creative catalyst England crave.
Southgate appears unconvinced about the Newcastle playmaker’s temperament. Indeed concerns that Shelvey might not be “a good tourist” are understood to be a principal reason why England’s coach did not name him in his squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia, but Newcastle’s manager maintains such worries are unfounded.
At the end of an international break during which Southgate has lamented a lack of a “game-changing” midfielder, Benítez was adamant that Shelvey can be that missing link.
“Jonjo has the quality, he has the vision, he can make these passes that strikers like behind defenders,” he said. “Can he play for England? Yes, for sure. You have to have different types of players in a team and I don’t see too many like Jonjo in England’s squad.”
After missing three games with a thigh injury, Shelvey – who has six England caps – is expected to return for Saturday’s home game against Arsenal. “Jonjo offers a different option ,” said Benítez. “I’m not going to push Gareth Southgate because I don’t like anyone pushing me but if he was asking me about Shelvey, I would say: ‘Yes.’”
Significantly there have been times when Benítez did not appear to fully trust the 26-year-old in Newcastle’s first XI and was privately alarmed by Shelvey’s once poor disciplinary record. Since the new year, though, that record has improved radically and, when fit, the midfielder has become an ever-present in a side increasingly built around his passing range and tempo-controlling abilities.
“He’s played a lot of Premier League games now,” said Benítez. “He’s more mature and more focused. If, before, he was doing 10 things wrong and 20 things right now it is five wrong and 25 right. He still has things he can improve, but he can pass, he’s very good on the ball and he has technical ability. He’s a much better player than before – he’s improved a lot. He’s dealing with situations a lot better.”