That is why Newcastle paid £12m for Jonjo Shelvey.
It was one game and it was against a West Ham side who are perhaps not what they were at the beginning of the season, but his performance provided a vivid demonstration of not only what Newcastle have been lacking, but also what Shelvey can bring to a midfield
The graphic above is courtesy of Squawka.com and shows Shelvey’s passing performance in yesterday’s game.
While the part he played in the two goals - particularly the 60-yard raking cross-field ball he played in the build-up to the second - were the obvious highlights, perhaps his greater influence was on the speed and rhythm with which his new side played. Shelvey may be capable of literal assists, but his more consistent value lies in his ability to reliably change the focus of attacks and to thread passes vertically into different areas of the pitch.
McClaren hasn’t had a player capable of that before now. Jack Colback, Vurnon Anita and the departing Cheik Tiote are all, to different degrees, able to recycle the ball and push it around the middle third of the pitch, but not in a way that ever really changes the mood of a game. A team needs vision in central midfield, because without that deep-laying creative player their build-up phases will always be slow, predictable and easy to defend against. As capable a player as Colback is, for instance, the strategy for nullifying him isn’t particularly complex - he doesn’t pass accurately over long distances and he doesn’t have the requisite skill to create his own space.
Shelvey has both of those qualities and that’s what makes him so valuable.
Swansea and Liverpool supporters will sneer - and maybe understandably, because there are red flags against his personality. He struggles with consistency, his defensive work-rate isn’t always the best, and there’s a shade of menace to his character which can make him a liability.
But, fair points as they may be, Shelvey is now working under a manager who is very well equipped to handle those issues. Whatever Steve McClaren’s managerial limitations may be, he’s an excellent coach. He understands how to empower players and to foster team-spirit, but he’s also known for encouraging maturity within his squads and is supposedly very adept at developing accountability within his teams.
It’s a theory, of course, and it will only be proven in time, but those may just be the ideal conditions within which to incubate Jonjo Shelvey. He must be allowed to play and to express himself, but he needs - and has needed for some time - to work under a coach who is able to challenge the uglier side of his game and who doesn’t just accept him as a hot and cold player.
Garry Monk briefly had that sort of impact on him, but the larger negatives at Swansea seemed to undermine his influence. Now, in a more stable situation - bizarre as it is to equate Newcastle United with stability - Shelvey has the opportunity to work with a decorated coach over a long period of time and perhaps rebuild his reputation in a more permanent way.