Rafa Benitez believes Jonjo Shelvey will be a better player for his time in the Championship.
The Newcastle United midfielder faces a hostile reception against Wolves at Molineux this evening (5.30pm kick-off).
Shelvey was banned for five games after being found to have used racially-aggravated language towards Wolves player Romain Saiss in September, when the Midlands outfit claimed a 2-0 victory aaginst the Magpies.
The 24-year-old – who strongly denied the Football Association charge – is also likely to face provocation on the pitch. And manager Benitez is hopeful that a more “mature” player will keep his discipline.
“The best thing Jonjo can do is concentrate on his football,” said Benitez. “We have been talking about that.”
Shelvey has been outstanding with the ball so far this season, and Benitez feels he is improving when Newcastle don’t have possession.
“He’s a very good player that has to grow in terms of being more mature and being more focused on what he can do on the pitch,” said Benitez.
“It’s easy to see teams marking him man to man and trying to get him out of the game.
“He has to grow and he has to learn. It’s a question of time. He has a lot of challenges now. He will improve and be a better player.”
Asked if the Championship will help Shelvey’s development, Benitez said: “I think that will be really important for his future.
“He has a lot of different situations, and he has to cope with them. I think it will be important for him at another level when he will have similar problems. It’s a really good experience for him.
“I will say that from the beginning of the season, also from last season, little by little, he has been learning and improving.”
On his England career, Benitez added: “I think he is a good player, and there are not too many players of Jonjo’s level around.”
Meanwhile, Benitez says top scorer Dwight Gayle is almost back up to full speed and could be back for Tuesday’s Championship fixture at Norwich City.
“He’s not in the squad, but he has been training with the team – nearly full sessions,” said Benitez.
“He’s getting closer. Sometimes it depends on the confidence of the player, but he’s getting closer.
“He has been training, doing football. He’s very, very close.”
The return of Gayle would give the Championship leaders a welcome lift ahead of a tough run of games.
Benitez said: “Are we missing him? Yes. But not because the other players are not doing their jobs.
“He’s a different kind of player. If you have three options, it’s always better for you as a manager.”