Jonjo Shelvey is England’s best passer and deserves a chance to prove he is worth a place at the World Cup, says Tony Cottee.
Shelvey has shone at Newcastle under Rafa Benitez, and has put the indiscipline which has dogged his career behind him in recent months since he was sent off at Everton in December.
The 26-year-old has six England caps, but the last of those came in November 2015. Since then he has not been given another opportunity to show his ability on an international stage – but even Benitez, who has never given praise lightly, said he could be a “great player” in Gareth Southgate’s squad in the World Cup if called upon.
Former England forward Cottee agreed following the ex-Liverpool man’s fine run of form, and told Sky Sports: “Whether you’re talking about Eric Dier, Jake Livermore, Jack Wilshere or Jordan Henderson, whoever you name that’s been in that England squad, there isn’t anyone who can pass the ball better than Shelvey.
“He needs to keep doing it for the last five or six games, but if he carries on like he is, he deserves to have a chance of getting on that plane.
“When we’re playing the likes of Tunisia and Panama, we’re going to have a lot of the ball. You need someone who can do something different.
“You need a Wilshere in the team, or a Shelvey, who can open up defences. You don’t want loads of workmanlike midfielders who don’t create and pass the ball.
“Jonjo brings something different to the table. I wouldn’t definitely have him in the squad, but if I was Gareth Southgate I’d be looking at him and thinking very carefully.”
England’s midfield creativity (per 90 minutes) Player Passes Passes into final third Chances created Dribbles completed Jonjo Shelvey 51.5 14.1 1.7 1.0 Jack Wilshere 60.8 6.9 1.1 3.5 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 43.6 6.3 1.9 2.9 Eric Dier 72.4 10.6 0.5 0.4 Jordan Henderson 84.6 15.1 1.1 0.4
Southgate said he “wasn’t looking for a quarter-back” when omitting Shelvey, to some surprise, from a youthful squad to face Brazil and Germany in November.
But given the England manager’s penchant for passing football, Cottee feels Shelvey’s abilities could play into his hands when Southgate is tasked with naming a 23-man squad for the World Cup finals.
“Gareth has the style he wants for England which is based around possession and passing, but when you get teams like Tunisia and Panama who will both pack the defence, it will just be a challenge to break them down,” he said.
“At that point, you need something different. That could be a Jonjo Shelvey, it could be a Peter Crouch or an Andy Carroll, but something that gives you something different.
“He’s probably the best English passer, in terms of passing it 40-50 yards. That’s not smashing the ball forward, that’s quality passing.
“What you need to do with him is get some legs around him in the team, if he’s going to spread the ball around, but I think he would give the squad something different.”