Shelvey atonement provides important lesson

Posted by Max Hicks

Monday night's game between Swansea and Liverpool was always going to be about Jonjo Shelvey. The gangly midfielder was the subject of a five million pound transfer between the clubs over the summer, a move which was greeted with equal parts happiness and disappointment by both sets of fans. During his time on Merseyside, Shelvey was talked about as the heir apparent to his own boyhood hero, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, lauded for flashes of brilliance one moment, only to be reviled the next for some act of brain cramping frustration. It made a certain kind of sense then that Shelvey played a significant part in all four goals of Monday's 2-2 draw.

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By now, everyone knows what happened. The elation of Shelvey opening the scoring, the game barely begun, with his first goal for his new club scored against his old. The humiliation of gifting his old club the equalizer moments later. The ignominy of providing a second after that, and the redemption of a sublime assist to cap off a night during which there was really only one man on the field. As one observer put it, "This isn't Swansea vs. Liverpool. It's Shelvey vs. Shelvey".

Under the glare of both sets of supporters, watched by millions on television and exposed to the ever-revealing scrutiny of Gary Neville's immaculate analysis, Shelvey was as good as he was bad. Equal parts Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Heir to Gerrard and Reds Reject, Swans' Midfield General and shell-shocked private. Shelvey excelled and faltered on the biggest of stages, a prime time Premier League fixture, and somehow managed to save himself.

It took courage from Shelvey to endure the tragicomic spectacle of which he was both director and chief protagonist. It showed a kind of determination and refusal to be beaten by his own momentary failures which is rare even among veterans, much less a 21-year-old given 90 minutes to prove whether Liverpool were right to let him go or whether Swansea were right to sign him.

The cheap shots were there for the taking on a night when everyone was a comedian. "In terms of assists, this is Shelvey's best game for Liverpool", someone tweets. 'Did the future incentives in the transfer fee include a couple of goals?'

It would have been so easy for Shelvey to have crumbled, gone looking for the darkest corner of the dressing room in which to hide while begging to be taken off the field. Instead, he stayed the course, with Michael Laudrup's support rather than what might have been an understandable 'tactical substitution'.

Swans supporters ought to appreciate Shelvey's heart-on-sleeve honesty as the man of the moment (nay man of the match) accepted a post-game interview as a platform from which to apologise to the fans -- this from a man who had been as instrumental in Swansea's goals as Liverpool's. If the two cancel each other out, he might feel he had nothing to apologise for. Instead, he appeared inconsolable, his goal and assist seemingly rendered meaningless by his mistakes.

Not many people in any walk of life could have endured the kind of experience Shelvey went through on Monday night. His all-action performance, the good and the bad, his deferential post-match interview and above all his relentless desire to keep trying, make Shelvey a rare beast. He's not perfect, but he knows it, a stark contrast to the unsteady balance of arrogance and cowardice shown by so many players who reach the top flight at so young an age.

Shelvey will keep trying and keep improving, even if it means making a few high-profile mistakes along the way. Perhaps hiding has never been an option for a man with Shelvey's striking appearance. On Monday night he didn't hide, but instead showed that while he might make mistakes, he's equally capable of making up for them, too. For his accountability and self-motivation alone, Shelvey was more than worth signing. If he ever forgives himself for the goals he gave up, he might allow himself a smile for the one he scored, because he probably couldn't have picked a better time to score it.

If Shelvey plays in the corresponding fixture at Anfield later in the season, perhaps he'll have another point to prove. For now, the toughest 90 minutes of Shelvey's season are over. The sides might have drawn on Monday night, but ultimately Shelvey won.

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