I'm a bit like marmite, says Jonjo
16th March 2015
Jonjo Shelvey is like a jar of marmite - you either love him or hate him - so says the English midfielder, who is among the band of footballers that tend to split opinion among average fans.
At Swansea, though, he is very much loved. Since making the move to SA1 in the summer of 2013, the England international has become a cult hero amongst the Jack Army. His no-nonsense style of play, committed performances and knack for a wonder strike has helped forge a bond between him and the Swansea faithful.
And given his former club Liverpool visit the Liberty tonight, it's safe to say Shelvey can expect the warmest ovation of the players involved this evening.
"I think I'm a bit like marmite - you either love me or you hate me," Shelvey tells Jack Magazine. "It's the way I am and it's the way I play football.
"It doesn't bother me if people don't like me, but if you do like me, then that's great. It's all part and parcel of football."
Having played a key role in helping Garry Monk's men reach the Premier League 40-point mark in record time this season, Shelvey has certainly felt the backing from the home supporters.
"It is nice to hear your mates singing your name in the park, let alone a whole stadium singing it," admits Shelvey.
"The majority of fans have been superb with me. When I see some of them around town, they sing my name. It's just amazing to come from nothing to have people believing in you and supporting you.
"The only way you can return the favour is by working your socks off for the football club and for them."
So far this season, Shelvey has made 26 appearances for the Swans, in a campaign that has seen Monk's side exceed all expectations by remaining in the top half of the table throughout.
During his three-year stay with Liverpool, the recently turned 23-year-old had grown accustomed to the level of expectancy that comes with playing for one of English football's most renowned clubs.
From the outside world looking in, the level of expectancy might not be the same for Swansea, but Shelvey insists that Monk has them believing they're a match for anyone.
"I can't speak highly enough about what the manager has done for Swansea this season," says Shelvey.
"He expects us to beat anyone, so I feel the expectancy here has gone up a level from when I first arrived and since Garry came in.
"At Liverpool you're expected to win every week, even against the bigger clubs. At Swansea, we tend to be expected to beat the teams around us, while getting anything from the big clubs is a bonus.
"But this year, I don't feel like it has been that way here. With the gaffer coming in, he has installed a belief within the squad that we can beat anyone.
"We haven't always played the prettiest of football, but some of the games this season, like at Burnley and Southampton, we would have probably lost last year, rather than rolling our sleeves up and fighting for the three points. We've started to grind out results.
"On our day, we are as good as anyone. It's a big pitch we have here, and if we pass the ball well, we make it hard for any team to live with us."
Shelvey has evidence to support his claim. Victories at the Liberty over Premier League giants Arsenal and Manchester United prove that the Swans are more than capable of punching above their perceived weight. A win over Rodgers' in-form Liverpool tonight would only strengthen that argument.
But for Shelvey, tonight's encounter in SA1 represents more than just another potential feather to Swansea's cap.
For the Romford-born midfielder, who fulfilled a lifelong ambition to play with and against his boyhood hero Steven Gerrard, tonight under the lights at the Liberty could see him go head-to-head with his former team-mate for a final time.
"I obviously don't want him to leave for the MLS because I still feel he has a good few more years to offer in the Premier League," insists Shelvey. "The MLS will be a good experience for him, but I think he will be a big miss for the Premier League.
"I don't think I need to say too much about just how much he has achieved, but ever since I went there he looked after me and was spot on.
"You can see the impact he has had on Liverpool over the years. In my opinion, he has been England's best midfielder for the past ten years or so. He will always be remembered as that for me.
"He helped me massively when I was at Liverpool, and I still talk to him since leaving.
"I'll probably text him the night before to try and get the Liverpool team off him for Monks. There will be a bit of banter.
"Seriously though, I'll probably speak to him leading up to the game. I still speak to him and Jordan Henderson regularly, but fingers crossed they'll be the unlucky ones on the night."
As a youngster growing up on the terraces of West Ham, Shelvey's ambition to play with and against his idol probably felt like a pipe dream.
But life can throw some unexpected surprises. For instance, as a 16-year-old breaking into the first-team at Charlton Athletic, Shelvey perhaps didn't anticipate that his career would one day lead him to South Wales.
"My third game for Charlton was against Swansea at the Valley, and I never thought I would one day end up here playing football in the Premier League," he adds.
"I remember we played Swansea away when I was at Charlton - we drew 1-1 - and it was the day of my birthday.
"We were staying in the Marriott Hotel, and we walked under the tunnel by Tesco. Now I do my shopping in Tesco, which is a bit weird.
"Three or four years ago I was at Charlton, now I'm living here. I never thought it would happen."
But the unexpected surprises are often the best ones. And having spent nearly two full seasons in Swansea, Shelvey is feeling right at home in the coastal city.
With the birth of his daughter Lola Fleur just over a year ago and the purchase of a house in the area, the former Arsenal trainee is putting down his roots in Swansea.
"I'm glad I moved here because I've loved every minute of it," he says. "I've bought a house for my family, I feel comfortable here and I'm enjoying playing for a great football club.
"It's nice living here because it's quiet. I live in a nice little village, and people let you get on with what you've got to do, which is perfect for me because I like to leave football at the training ground. People in Swansea, and in Wales generally, are very friendly."
Swansea's success on the pitch means expectations will no doubt rise as they close in on their best-ever finish to a Premier League season. But that's not something that bothers Shelvey, who is confident that Monk's men can live up to the hype.
"There is so much more we feel we can do in terms of reaching goals," he adds. "I think the team is that good that we can make that next step up into the European places, challenging for them like we are doing at the moment.
"We will hopefully bring in some more players in the summer that will make the competition for places even fiercer, which is what the top clubs have got. That's what I think Swansea is - a top club.
"Hopefully we can try and achieve something at the end of this year and then kick on and go even further next season."
That might seem like a lofty ambition for most, but as Shelvey has shown by fulfilling his childhood dream of playing with and against Gerrard, Swansea's marmite character has a habit for achieving the unexpected.