How long before Liverpool let wonderkid off the leash?

Widely regarded as one of England’s finest young talents, and already labelled as ‘the next Steven Gerrard’, Liverpool fans are expecting great things from Jonjo Shelvey. And with every glimpse the Anfield faithful get of the youngster, the air of optimism continues to grow. It is now seemingly only a matter of time before he is holding down a regular first team place. But the question on Liverpool’s fans lips is why not already?

At the tender age of eighteen, Shelvey looks like a great prospect for both Liverpool and England, and though admittedly not ready for the international stage just yet, he could step up to Liverpool’s first team in the near future, particularly given their current predicament. After exactly a quarter of the Premier League season gone, Liverpool are floundering in the relegation zone, and aside from one game, have shown a lack of creativity, movement, and energy, with the main perpetrators being his central midfield competition, Lucas and Christian Poulsen; for this reason there couldn’t be a better time for Shelvey to be pushing for some first team action.

His display away at Napoli was his most recent and most impressive display to date. To play so comfortably, arguably giving a man of the match performance, in such a hostile atmosphere without the experience Gerrard, Torres and Cole to help him along the way suggests he is as thick skinned and determined as he is technically capable. No Liverpool fans are suggesting he is an immediate solution to their problems, but the youthful vitality and promise Shelvey has in such abundance may go some way in lifting spirits on the terraces as well as on the pitch. Without the late summer addition of Raul Miereles, it would be hard to imagine any reason for Shelvey’s absence.

However, Liverpool fans may well have to wait some time before they see Shelvey playing regularly in a red shirt if, that is, Roy Hodgson does enough to keep himself in a job at Anfield for an extended period of time. The reason being that historically, Hodgson has put his trust in age and experience; Fulham’s average age was just below 30 throughout his tenure at Craven Cottage, and from being just over 24 last season; Liverpool’s average age is now just under 28. Although this is fine when getting results, a mix of youth and experience has often proved to be the healthiest option, however, it is difficult to envisage Hodgson ever adopting this stance. Emiliano Insua, and Kristian Nemeth have been loaned out and sold respectively at the age of twenty, whilst Daniel Agger, even at 25, isn’t getting a sniff of first team football. Lucas and Ngog are the youngest players that can be classed as first teamers, though this is more through necessity than choice. Arguably, the reason Shelvey got ninety minutes under his belt against Napoli was to ensure the so called ‘big’, and experienced, players were well rested for Blackburn at home, a potentially career defining game for Hodgson.

So, Shelvey may have to wait a year or two to establish himself in the first team, or even wait for a new manager to be put in place at Anfield, but there is a feeling amongst Liverpool fans that, whoever is in charge, it won’t be long until Jonjo gives them no choice but to play him.