There was a point on Monday night when Michael Laudrup must have considered dragging Jonjo Shelvey off for his own good, possibly with a harpoon gun. Having fulfilled the contractual obligations of the ex-player by opening the scoring against his old club, Shelvey then enhanced the now-obligatory refusal to celebrate by compensating his former employers with two delightful assists. Classy. Nice touch.
Mentally, Shelvey was in all sorts of bother as he left the pitch at half-time. His confidence collapsed like a house of playing cards obliterated by a speeding labrador. Laudrup had two options. He could leave him in the dressing room to sob it all out and then spend the next six months gluing his self-esteem back together, or he could give him the opportunity to go and repair the damage. Thankfully, he chose the latter.
In one frantic half of football, Shelvey did more to enhance his reputation than he had in three years at Anfield. While many players would have dropped deep and seen out the game by playing nice, safe sideways passes, this shiny-headed battler refused to hide. He wanted the ball, he demanded it, he repeatedly chose the most difficult, but most rewarding option. Swansea, played off the park for the majority of the first half, pushed Liverpool onto the back foot and then claimed a fully deserved equaliser. Shelvey, scurrying up behind the front men, launched himself into the air and delicately nodded a cross down to the feet of Michu in a manner that reminded more than one rueful Liverpool fan of John Toshack.
Liverpool vs Swansea 2-2 by FootyLight0
Not many players are fortunate enough to recover from a career nadir within an hour of the descent. Shelvey made a point of apologising to the Swansea fans after the game for those two errant passes, but there was no need. The supporters will have been impressed enough with his recovery. Character takes you further than technical ability in the stands at most football clubs.
Shelvey is an infuriating footballer. He is Schrodinger’s playmaker; he exists in a dual state of excellence and incompetence. There are times when he sweeps the ball 40 yards into the instep of an onrushing winger and you wonder why he hasn’t made more than one appearance for England. Then, usually within moments, there are times when he thuds the ball out of play with a cloven hoof and you wonder how he even got that far up the national ladder.
It’s always dangerous to refer to footballers as ‘brave’, glibly drawing the feat of accurately kicking a ball into line with, say, rushing into a burning building to save a trapped orphan. These are multi-millionaire twenty-somethings playing a game for a living, not £20k a year squaddies taking heavy fire in Helmand Province. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the courage that was so evident in Shelvey’s play after half-time. It bodes well for the future.
Any player will tell you that confidence comes from playing time. There are very few footballers who can drop in and out of a team, always maintaining a stable level of performance. Shelvey is the kind of player who needs to play and it is for this reason that he left Merseyside in the summer. Perhaps after a year or so of regular football at Swansea, we will see more of the excellence and less of the incompetence. Perhaps Monday night will galvanise a career that has promised so much and delivered so little.
If nothing else, Shelvey has proved one thing with this display: He may not have the consistently delicate first touch or the icy composure of an international regular, but he’s certainly got balls.
Swansea take on Spanish giants Valencia in the Europa League this week - check the latest odds.
Read more from Iain Macintosh here.