JONJO SHELVEY has done a lot of growing up over the past six months.
Having made the giant leap from life in League One with Charlton Athletic to Liverpool last summer, it’s been a steep learning curve for the England Under-19 international.
But it’s one the talented midfielder has fully embraced. His application has impressed manager Roy Hodgson and has already earned him eight first team appearances.
From relative obscurity the 18-year-old from Romford now finds himself firmly in the spotlight and he’s loving every minute of it.
“My mates always say to me ‘what’s it like to play for Liverpool?’,” he said.
“It’s something that words just can’t describe. It’s just such an honour to play for a club like this with so much history and such passionate fans.
“You pretend to be people like Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher when you are in the school playground as a kid. To actually be playing alongside them really is a dream come true.
“I feel like I’ve become a better person both on and off the pitch since I’ve been here. I’ve had to mature quickly.
“You can’t be a typical 18-year-old boy going out getting drunk with your mates. You have to be disciplined and while I’ve been at the club I’ve certainly matured.
“You have got to be responsible on and off the pitch because no matter what someone is always looking at you. You can’t afford to switch off from that.”
The transfer fee of £1.7million, rising to £3million depending on appearances, was a hefty outlay for a teenager unproven at the highest level.
Just to crank up the pressure even more Shelvey, who had spells with Arsenal and West Ham before coming through the ranks at Charlton, has had to deal with the unnecessary burden of being tagged as ‘the next Steven Gerrard’.
However, rather than weigh heavily on his shoulders he insists that has just served to spur him on since he arrived at Anfield.
“Obviously I came with quite a price tag on me and I just want to prove to everyone I’m worth that,” he said.
“I’m confident in my own ability and it’s great to know the manager has trust in me.
“It’s an honour when you hear stuff comparing you to a great player like Steven Gerrard.
“It’s a bit of an inspiration but I can’t rest on what’s been said. The only way to prove it is out on the pitch.”
Having made his debut as a late substitute in the Carling Cup defeat to Northampton in September, a first start away to Napoli followed in the Europa League a month later.
Shelvey was praised for his efforts on an intimidating night in the Stadio San Paolo and further starts followed in Europe at home to Napoli and away to Steaua Bucharest.
Throw in brief cameo outings in the Premier League against Blackburn, Chelsea, Wigan and West Ham and he has enjoyed more action than he ever expected.
“I’m really grateful for the chances the boss has given me and hopefully that will continue,” he said.
“It’s great being out there knowing all your family are watching on TV back home. I know I’m making them proud as well as myself proud.
“I’m still only 18 and I know I have a lot of learning to do but I feel like I’m improving.
“The defensive side of my game has definitely got a lot better. I know better now when to attack and when to defend.
“The boss here has put that into my game and it’s good to add extra stuff.
“The intensity of the training is certainly a lot harder than I was used to and obviously the level of the players I’m playing with is a lot better.
“Here you have to be focused 100% every day. You can’t have a day when you are slacking.”
Shelvey feels right at home and nerves aren’t an issue for a player who made his Football League debut for Charlton when he had just turned 16.
“I used to get nervous playing in front of my dad over at the local park but I don’t get that playing here,” he said.
“I’ve got confidence in what I can do. As a young boy you can’t have any fear. You just have to go out there and deliver.”
Shelvey is set to start against Utrecht tonight as Liverpool look to sign off their Europa League group campaign in style.
With top spot in Group K already secured and the Dutch club unable to progress there is little at stake.
However, try telling Shelvey tonight’s clash in front of a packed crowd doesn’t matter.
“The game is still very important because it’s another chance for us young lads to show what we can do,” he said.
“Every time you play you have to leave a good impression in the boss’ mind and hopefully I’ve done that in the previous games.
“The Europa League has been good to me so far. That game away to Napoli was an amazing experience. To be able to say I’ve played in such a hostile place in front of 60,000 fans going mental is great. That kind of thing is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people.
“Playing in this competition has got me more well known globally and I really believe we can go on and win it.”