Sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend that Jonjo Shelvey is just 26.
That oft-spouted phrase ‘Class of 92’ refers to a particularly talented group of footballers that happened to be in the same youth teams at Manchester United.
But, you could also make the case that 1992 is the final year in which footballers were strictly that.
In the last six or seven years, as footballers grew alongside the world they live in, their footballing lives, their personal lives and their need for extra-curricular exposure culminated in a clustered existence.
Ironically, Paul Pogba could be seen as the prime example of that.
There’s no right way or wrong way to conduct yourself within the unspoken realm of dignity and legality, but the transition between internet celebrity footballer and the previous archetype wasn’t seamless.
Enter Jonjo Shelvey and consider him the counter-movement.
Shelvey was the last of a breed that simply didn’t subscribe to the heightening requirements to be more than he was – a professional footballer.
While that may be seen as his biggest character strength, it’s culminated in a bullish temper on the pitch and it doesn’t translate to the modern game.
That isn’t sugar-coating, either. While most enjoy brushing it off as some form of sh*thousery, some of Shelvey’s antics don’t belong in any game, not just the ‘modern’ one.
Shelvey depicts someone lost in a generation. But, he wasn’t always like that.
Ten years ago, Shelvey was the next big thing and not just from a bullish Gerard/Rooney standpoint, also from a technical perspective.
Some of that promise is still prominent today. The Romford native does things that nobody expects of him. At least, not anymore.
That’s because instead of embracing his own ability, he embraced his niche which then formed a stereotype and eventually took him over.
He’s not free of blame, but someone who once carried the exaggerated hopes of a nation at underage level simply got lost in an identity crisis – on the periphery of a new footballing era – one he simply didn’t belong in.
There’s an element of unlocking potential with him, too. And clubs continuously roll the dice on him for that reason. While his brash nature drives down his price, he becomes a project for clubs that feel they can get him back to the level he once flashed.
That represents value, or at least perceived value. And nobody in the bottom half of the Premier League can resist that temptation.
But it puts Shelvey, again, in that in-between. He’ll likely play for clubs that have limited ambition, but never fully break out.
He’ll likely flash brilliance before exhibiting madness. He’ll always represent a risk rather than an investment.
On occasion, like last night, he’ll literally lash out at the brand of footballer that was emerging around him, but surpassing him ability-wise.
Shelvey should have seen red last night. But, Shelvey also should have been the box-to-box midfielder that replaced Steven Gerrard.
He should and could have been so many better variations of himself, but he was trapped in era where his identity was lost.
Unfortunately for him and Paul Pogba, he still portrays someone who doesn’t belong in the modern landscape and hasn’t come to terms with his dwindling career.