After a tremendous effort out in Russia, England have long returned home and the much debated mid-season friendly programme has followed. As is the lull between top flight fixtures, a popular world cup topic of conversation was the choice of midfielders and whether we had alternative players who could have made a bigger difference.
Commenting for the Daily Mail, Jamie Redknapp praises players such as Leicester’s James Maddison, Derby’s on loan midfielder Mason Mount and, interestingly, Newcastle United talisman Jonjo Shelvey. I say ‘interestingly’ because many fellow Toon fans would reluctantly concur with Redknapp mentioning Shelvey as a contender for Gareth Southgate’s side. Unsurprisingly, it appears to be another thinly-veiled attempt at blaming Rafa Benitez for deploying defensive tactics against the likes of Chelsea and Man City.
Redknapp’s ridiculous ramblings regarding Rafa have riled Newcastle fans over the past weeks, and he hasn’t stopped there. He begins somewhat complementary, suggesting that ”Few English midfielders are better than Jonjo at hitting those raking, 50-yard 'Hollywood' passes. He is a brilliant quarterback and has the ability to unlock any defense.” I’m sure that is something most of us would agree with entirely. However, considering Jonjo’s game is almost defined by taking up dictatorial positions similar to the likes Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso, his next comment is a quite puzzling.
“What holds him back when it comes to consideration for England is that he lacks that half a yard of pace you need to succeed on the international stage.”
I don’t think many of us can disagree with Jonjo Shelvey not being the quickest for pace, but how did that affect the careers of the aforementioned Alonso and Pirlo? We obviously aren’t comparing skill here but suggesting pace is fundamental to a player’s playing level is as naïve as suggesting that possession is what wins football matches.
Redknapp goes on to question Shelvey’s past attitude and suggests that “there are questions over his temperament”. I think most of us would concede this hasn’t been his strongest area but many would also agree that over the past 12 months we’ve seen a dramatic improvement. Jonjo has subsequently revealed he has received professional help for this and thus his card count has fallen dramatically since.
However, the really irking comments are directed at manager Rafa Benitez, as Redknapp suggests:
“He needs to have at least 10 brilliant games for Newcastle in the coming months if he wants to add to his six caps. Whether he will have the opportunity to showcase his skills in a team which plays so negatively remains to be seen.”
It’s that last bit that no-one will find surprising considering the mouth it inaccurately crept out of. Yet another point made with little context or factual foundation. Besides, Rafa could arguably be considered the catalyst for Jonjo’s career revival and subsequent consideration for the national team.
Finding Jonjo Shelvey (26) being mentioned amongst some of the brightest young English talent, was an eye opener and the article seemed an interesting read. However, none of us are going to buy into the unfounded rhetoric that Rafa needlessly plays counter-attacking, defensive football despite having 'enough' resources. He’s like a broken record on a tacky sports shop sponsored turntable. As Toon legend Alan Shearer pointed out, pundits and journalists need reminded that no-one took more points off the top 6 teams last season than Newcastle United. That’s because we didn’t use the ‘chocolate fireguard’ approach to defending in these games. By erroneously praising the NUFC hierarchy for Rafa’s hard work reaching 10th place, is contradictory and simply wrong.
This man needs a muzzle. Rant over.
*picture courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/27687446@N07