Jonjo Shelvey says he’s grown up as a footballer – thanks to Rafa Benitez.
Shelvey found himself on the bench late last season – just months after joining the club.
The midfielder, signed from Swansea City for £12million, could only watch in frustration as the team lost its battle to stay in the Premier League.
Shelvey lost weight in the summer and returned determined to belatedly make his mark on the pitch.
And the England international has gone on to start all but two of Newcastle United’s 11 Championship games this season.
Asked what the difference has been for him this season, Shelvey said: “It’s been more physically.
“If you feel better physically fit, then you will be mentally better as well.
“I am not the same person as well, because I have grown so much more. I feel more confident and fearless than what I was.”
On his confidence, Shelvey added: “I have always been a confident person – you have to be when you have a bald head and have alopecia.”
Shelvey says he understands the need for rotation at Newcastle during a 46-game Championship season.
“There will be times when I am not in the XI, but Rafa has helped me understand that and, in terms of that, he is a very good manager,” said the 24-year-old.
Shelvey, under the guidance of Benitez, believes he is maturing as a person and a footballer on Tyneside.
“I have probably always been a player who needs to feel loved, needs an arm round me,” he said.
“As I am getting older, I have felt that’s a bit childish. That’s not the way to be in life.
“You don’t need someone to say ‘well done’ and that if you have. You should know.”
Shelvey, handed the skipper’s armband for a spell last season by Steve McClaren, has captained Newcastle this season when Jamaal Lascelles has been out of the team.
“I am quite vocal in the dressing room,” he said.
“I feel a bit more of a leader, I have been at some big clubs, and played in the Premier League with Swansea, so I have got the experience.
“We’re a young team when you look at the squad, but I do have the experience and know how to get the best out of each individual.”
Shelvey feels there are “exciting times” ahead for the club if it can return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
“There’s a buzz around the city,” said Shelvey. “Speaking to people, the city has missed that love of football and the club, but I feel we have got the fans back on side.
“We are starting to win games on a regular basis, and if we go up, then it’s expecting times for the club.”
Third-placed United are three points behind leaders Huddersfield Town ahead of this afternoon’s home game against Brentford.
“We are in and around where want to be,” said Shelvey. “It would be nice to be a bit higher, but Huddersfield have surprised a few teams. If we keep doing what we are doing and collecting points, we’ll be fine.
“We are doing well and winning games away from home, but we need to tidy up on a few edges at home.
“Personally, it was disappointing not to start the season, because I had felt I had done enough. But I was on the bench towards the end of last season, and now I am feel better about myself and playing in the games.
“I feel like I can get on the ball, dictate play and move the ball forward. That’s my first thought – to look forward.
“We need that and hopefully I can help the team with that.
“I know what’s required in the Championship – I know this league. I’ve played in the Premier League for a few years since, but I know what English football’s about and I can bring that to this team.
“The gaffer has thought that too and supported me.”