The England national team have some sort of Swansea-phobia. In the 103-year history of the Swans, no player has ever represented England. You could argue that this is fair enough with a large portion of that history residing in the lower echelons of the Football League, but the argument for exclusion of City players from the England set-up becomes far more ridiculous when you look back over the past few seasons, where the Swans have been a glittering success at times.
Since Swansea reached the ‘Promised Land’ of the Premier League there have been calls for several players to join the England ranks. First of all there was play-off final hero Scott Sinclair – admittedly, a player who I thought was average in the top flight and a player who I did not really see as an international. However, I was supportive of call ups for Nathan Dyer and Leon Britton, who were both excellent in our first Premier League campaign. And it may sound silly now, but I felt at one point that Danny Graham was in with a good claim too (people forget that he was actually very good in his first season and scored 12 goals in his debut Premier League campaign).
The following term I claimed that Wayne Routledge was the ‘most underrated player in the league’ and should be given a chance by the national team, but I was always under the impression that that would never happen. However, despite backing all these players for an England spot, there is no doubt in my mind that we have a player now who should definitely be representing the Three Lions: Jonjo Shelvey.
Interestingly, Jonjo did get a call-up to the squad at the start of last season, but at a strange time when he really wasn’t excelling for the Swans; he didn’t get on the pitch though and so Swansea’s run of no England caps continues. Now, Shelvey looks to be playing the best football of his career so far. He has come a hell of a long way in the past eight months too.
After Garry Monk publicly declared at the turn of the year that Shelvey needed to think long and hard about his actions on the pitch and dubbing some of his decisions as ‘lazy’, it has been noticeable how much the ex-Charlton youngster’s demeanour on the field has improved. The confidence on the ball remains, yet the fiery, ‘silly’ moments, all so synonymous with Shelvey, seemed to be rapidly disappearing. Even off the field, it has been widely reported and heralded that he has been working extra hours with a personal trainer and has even employed a personal chef (on a supposed £65k). It’s fair to say that the midfielder has realised that now is the time for him to start fulfilling all of that potential he has. He’s certainly done that over the past six months.
I’ve never been in doubt about Shelvey having talent, since the day I happened to find myself at Blackpool v Bristol City and witness him score a 40-yard free-kick and comprehensively boss the game on his debut on loan at the Seasiders. The two aspects lacking from his game for me were the aforementioned temperament and his poor decision making at times. He is capable of pinpoint 40-yard passes, killer through balls and audacious long range shots, yet sometimes he deployed these in the wrong situations and, ultimately, unsuccessfully. There seems no sign of such wastefulness this season. Clearly, Monk has not stifled these traits out of Shelvey’s game, but it is evident that he has become a lot more patient with the ball and better at retaining it. He’s now getting the basics right. Not that this has diminished his creativity – if anything it seems to have improved.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is rightly dubbed as the Swans’ chief playmaker, but in regards of creating chances, it has been the slightly deeper lying Shelvey who has been feeding the front line more than the Icelander so far this season. Note how the Englishman created two glorious openings for Gomis v Chelsea – one which Swansea earned a penalty from and got Courtois sent off – and then how he split open the Newcastle defence to provide Gomis with his opening goal. And here largely lies why I think England should definitely be offering Shelvey a chance.
Unlike many of the other English midfielders at Roy Hodgson’s disposal, I feel that Shelvey offers something very different to the others. England have driving midfielders like Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere (when fit) to work the engine room in midfield and speedsters like Sterling and Hodgson favourite Townsend; yet they seem to lack a creative player, who can really play that killer pass or do the unexpected through the middle of midfield. The only player who really seems able to compete with Shelvey in this department is Ross Barkley – and he’s more of a direct runner with the ball than Jonjo.
At the end of the day, I’m a very proud Welshman, so it really shouldn’t bother me the lack of Swansea-ness in the England set-up, but somehow, like many Swans fans it seems, there is something very frustrating about the lack of recognition for some of our players. Hopefully, Hodgson makes more of an effort to come watch the Swans this season (Swansea did play six English players over the 90 minutes in their last game after all) and I believe the England boss could do far worse than at least giving Shelvey a chance in his upcoming squads.