#9 – Jonjo Shelvey
Most of Charlton’s best players over the past eleven years have been hard-workers, rather than technically gifted entertainers. That’s not to belittle their ability, but more often has an Addick left you inspired by their fight than wowed by their fancy footwork.
So it comes as a frustration that one of the most able and exciting players who have worn Charlton red in my time as a supporter was criminally underused. A teenager he may have been, and consequently still raw enough to occasionally frustrate, but had Phil Parkinson been brave enough to build his team around Jonjo Shelvey, he surely would have been rewarded.
In fact, Parkinson did just that for a period at the start of the 2009/10 season. Give a free role behind Deon Burton, Shelvey was a joy to watch. His composure on the ball as a teenager only matched by Diego Poyet, his passing was creative, but sensible and safe when it needed to be, and there was even a defensive quality that advanced midfielders rarely possess.
So too was there a maturity and an intelligent footballing brain that meant those times where rawness was shown were few and far between. But it’s that footballing brain that was part of Parkinson’s justification for only using him 25 times in the league that season.
Shelvey was, or so the rumour goes, “too good”. Too good for the likes of Akpo Sodje and David Mooney to capitalise on his genius, and too good for Parkinson to find a role for him in his style of play.
For a manager whose tactics were based around getting it forward quickly and using the midfield more predominately as a first line of defence, utilising Shelvey was always going to be detrimental to side’s balance. A luxury that couldn’t be afforded; instead we had to watch Sodje run in quicksand and Mooney lose every physical battle.
Alas, Shelvey was a luxury I still feel fortunate to have seen play for Charlton. Equally, I feel fortunate that he was the first real academy graduate whose career I will be able to track from start to finish.
Apart from being an absolutely fantastic footballer and a joy to watch, that he was the first in a long line of academy graduates to be proud of that have come into the side since I’ve started supporting the club is part of the reason why he makes this XI.
In fact, Shelvey was arguably one of few things to be proud of while supporting Charlton during an incredible tough period. Even his debut in 2008, coming a week after Championship play-off hopes had been ended, provided hope of a better future.
Becoming the youngest ever Addicks as he took the field at Oakwell, a 3-0 defeat against Barnsley took nothing away from a composed and classy performance from the 16-year-old. Even on first viewing, it was clear Charlton had themselves a real gem.
And that was only confirmed the following week. During Charlton’s 4-1 win over Coventry, Shelvey dictated the game from a slightly deeper midfield role than the one he now operates in. Again, his composure and class on the ball really stood out; technique that players much older than him would have died to have half off.
Players 22 years his senior would have wished to have been at Shelvey’s stage of his career, but it was fitting that Chris Powell, making his final appearance for the club, replaced a man who was seemingly the future of the club. Both worthy of ovations they received from the Covered End.
But quickly it became apparent the future at Charlton wasn’t going to be a bright one. Shelvey scarcely used as Alan Pardew and his side kept finding new ways to disgrace themselves.
It wasn’t until Pardew was sacked and replaced by Parkinson that Shelvey began to play a more prominent part. Sixteen appearances and four goals followed, with the first of those goals, coming against Norwich in the FA Cup, making him Charlton’s youngster ever goalscorer.
Again, there was composure and class in his performance, while a five in midfield formation meant he was given the freedom to play in a more advanced role.
But with the Addicks still showing no signs that they would get off the foot of the table, and Shelvey quickly approaching his 17th birthday, there was a real fear he would be poached before Charlton could hand him a professional contract.
Thankfully, in a rare moment of not being monumentally useless, the club managed to tie the playmaker down.
While people attempted to mock me about Charlton’s league position, I would simply inform that we had a future world class player in our ranks. They didn’t believe me, but that I could say that with some conviction as the Addicks headed to League One provided some solace, and also some positivity that his presence would get us back into the second tier at the first time of asking.
He may not have played as much as you would have liked, but he certainly played his part in Charlton’s promotion challenge. Not necessarily consistent, but certainly the most talented player in that side and capable of changing games despite still being a teen.
However, there was disappointment when Shelvey departed for Liverpool before the season finished, meaning he wasn’t around for Charlton’s play-off semi-final against Swindon. Should the teenager have been available for that second leg, when the Addicks dominated but failed in the final third towards the end of the game, he might well have made the difference.
Nonetheless, a feel a sense of pride in what Shelvey has achieved in his career. He remains the sort of player who is a joy to watch, and knowing that Charlton played a massive part in producing that is a great feeling.
And while there has been some doubts about his attitude in recent weeks, it’s clear that that is the only real stumbling block to Shelvey adding to his England caps and proving more moments of magic for Swansea.
The first academy graduate I saw progress through, and he’s going to take some beating to ever not be the best.