Jonjo Shelvey nearly joined West Ham this summer before Newcastle blocked the move. “I was close to leaving but the club said ‘no’,” the midfielder said.
The 27-year-old, who was born in east-London, is struggling to command a first-team place under Steve Bruce but is more than content to remain on Tyneside. “I’m happy here, I love living in this city,” he said. “I’ve never once stated I wanted to leave.” Shelvey also rejected suggestions he is “lazy” and a “sulker”, and emphasised his commitment to being a team player.
Shelvey is one of the most gifted individuals in Bruce’s squad but was omitted from the first XI by Rafael Benítez for large chunks of last season and was an unused substitute during last Sunday’s win at Tottenham.
“You hear that you’re lazy,” said Shelvey, who has apologised to Newcastle fans for missing a penalty in Wednesday’s League Cup shootout defeat at home to Leicester.
“I get labelled lazy maybe because of my body language; I’m quite laid-back. People can say what they want. But I’m the one who goes out there and trains every day as hard as I can. I’m playing for another contract at this club and I need to keep performing. I understand football’s changing and I’m evolving with it but stats are stats. You can run 15km if you like but I’m a footballer.”
Yet despite impressing against Leicester he believes he will be on the bench once more at home to Watford on Saturday. “I don’t expect to play,” Shelvey said. “If I was a manager, I wouldn’t change the team that won at Tottenham. It’ll be a big game and, if I’m called on, I’ll be ready. I just want to be part of the squad. I get labelled I’m a sulker and not part of this team. But I am part of this team. I’ll do what the manager tells me to.”
As he waits to be summoned from the bench, Shelvey hopes sceptical fans will give Bruce the benefit of the doubt. “Defensively we look sound,” he said, praising the manager’s decision to revert to the 3-4-3 formation that served Benítez so well.
“We’ve had playing that way in that formation instilled in us by Rafa. The gaffer has picked up on it and it seems to be working. We need to work on what we do offensively with the ball but that will come. The supporters need to get off the gaffer’s back. He’s doing a good job.”
Ironically it was Benítez’s switch to 3-4-3 that led to Shelvey becoming surplus to requirements and may have prompted the Spaniard to sell him to West Ham. Bruce, who sees something of his former Hull playmaker Tom Huddlestone in Shelvey, initially deployed the midfielder in a 3-5-2 system but now Shelvey’s challenge is to prove he can adjust to a new role in a different configuration.