Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Monk with the patience of a Saint

Josh Denk thinks Monk's management of the squad is key to our continued success

Where are we at the end of 19 games? I’m certainly happy to report, as we all should be, that we have more wins than losses, that we have seven points more than we did last year at the same time, and that we...well, we still have Bony, which is no small feat. 

But now we face a long, cold January in the long tradition of long, cold Januaries in the Premier League. That means away at QPR, home to West Ham and Chelsea, and away to Southampton. None of that looks great for us, especially with Bony and Ki gone for most of the month. Is it possible we’ll be sitting on 30 points or less at the end of the month? Quite possible. But at the risk of making this into the Super-Garry-Monk fan site, let’s examine why our manager is the right guy to get us through the not-so-festive fixtures. And here I refer specifically to the dance that is the constant management of Jonjo Shelvey.

Like others, I was excited to take three points away to Hull and follow it up with a gutty, if not overwhelming, 1-0 win at home against Villa. But I wasn’t thrilled at first to hear Monk come out swinging, calling Shelvey “lazy” and warning him about the actions that led to his yellow card. Let’s let Monk say it: 

“I have spoken to Jonjo and he has to wise up. The yellow card came from being lazy and he has to be better than that. There are only so many times you can say it — he has to learn very quickly and make sure he works instead of being lazy, and he won't pick up the yellow cards and risk a red or coming off the pitch.” Monk on Shelvey

I mean, if Shelvey isn’t lazily getting in everyone’s face, what do we have him for?

Likewise, I wasn’t sure what to make of the comments after our 4-1 drubbing at Anfield. After an own goal and an elbow on Emre Can that had me a little embarrassed, frankly, here’s what he said: 

“"I thought he put himself about, had good energy and he was possibly our best passer on the day. He was probably our most threatening midfielder on the ball but I know he can be even better. Performance-wise, he's capable of running a game, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and really dictating it, but what you forget is that he's a really young player.” Monk on Shelvey's performance v Liverpool

Really? After that performance, that’s what you have to say?

But let’s put the two sets of comments together. What does that say about Garry Monk’s leadership with this team?

It very clearly says “don’t get too high, don’t get too low” to fans who think too much of our clean sheets over the Christmas holiday itself. That’s the subtle message that transcends what Shelvey should hear - a brilliant strategy in itself.

But it also serves to keep Shelvey in check himself. Two wins in a row, one away from home, is still a pretty good run for this team. Add two clean sheets, and a young buck like Shelvey might get big notions in his already expansive head. Monk tamped down on those VERY quickly with his initial comments. It certainly wasn’t that Jonjo lit the game on fire; however, Garry wanted to make sure there wasn’t any doubt that he had more to learn.

Then we have a game where Jonjo was arguably the goat (and there was a long line of folks arguing it, though I’m not sure I agree). I’d have been ready to light Mr. Shelvey on fire myself, and it wouldn’t have been the first time. Good, then, that we have the steady Mr. Monk to level with us, to let us know he’s got this, he’s on the case, he knows what the prescription is for what ails our mad midfielder.

I think all of us, in our most honest moments, would be mature enough to admit we don’t have what it takes to keep someone like Shelvey in check. I can barely keep myself in check; I leave that difficult and grinding work to my wife. But I have no doubt that in going into a period where he might be without Bony, Ki, Shelvey, and the deft-but-gimpy Jefferson Montero, Garry Monk is in tune with his players. If the way he has handled Shelvey - “Don’t get too high on our performances, but don’t beat yourself over the head for one admittedly bad performance” - is any indication of what our squad gets on a day-to-day basis, I have no doubt we are in for the long haul and ready for the difficulties of a long January.

This whole circumstance also speaks to the ability to assess performances dispassionately as well. Sure, it would have been easy for Monk to come down on the low points of Shelvey’s performance on Monday (the own goal, the elbow...) but Monk chose to look at the performance as a whole. And he made sure to emphasize in both cases how the team wins, loses, and draws as a team. 

In the end, this is how it’s going to go down - a team effort. It’s not down to Jonjo. It’s down to the whole team - Rangel and Jazz, Ki and Shelvey, Bony and Gomis, Britton and Carroll, Fabianski and Tremmel. Do you think we’re up for it? Well, you’d better think of it as a team effort rather than as individual parts. Like Monk said this weekend, “We win as a collective.”

As long as that steady hand is on the rudder, I like our chances of staying in the top half. Let’s hope, then, that his ability to assess the needs of Mr. Shelvey apply to the rest of the squad as well as loanee signing Nelson Oliveira. We only need 12 points to stay up, but I’d like to push for more - wouldn’t you?

Thanks to Josh for his latest piece - give him a follow on Twitter @TheJoshDenk