ARTIST or antagonist? Abuser or abused? Few players polarise opinion as starkly as Newcastle United midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, the shaven-headed playmaker who will be integral to his side’s hopes of re-establishing themselves in the Premier League this season.

To his supporters, and the vast majority of Newcastle fans would unquestionably fall into that camp, he is one of the most technically-gifted players in the country, a pass master able to land a 60-yard ball onto the foot of his side’s centre-forward without even having to lift his head.

To his detractors, though, he is a hot-headed miscreant, only ever a couple of moments away from a show of petulance that undermines everything else he does.

The truth, it is fair to say, lies somewhere in between. There were times last season when Shelvey was so superior to his Championship peers it was almost embarrassing. QPR away, when his effortless midfield prompting enabled Newcastle to score six, or Rotherham at home, when an opponent was tasked with following his every move, but he still managed to set up three of his side’s four goals.

Yet in the eyes of many, Shelvey’s one-season stay in the Championship will forever be associated with a split-second incident in last September’s home defeat to Wolves. On a rancorous afternoon, Shelvey was found guilty of racially abusing Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss.

An FA panel decided that the 25-year-old had branded Saiss a “smelly Arab” and fined him £100,000 and banned him for five matches. Shelvey protested his innocence, but kept his counsel after opting not to appeal.

The incident continues to rankle with the former Liverpool midfielder, and he finally broke his silence in a series of interviews during Newcastle’s recent pre-season tour to Ireland.

Were there lessons to be learned from what went on? “No, because I didn’t say what it was printed out to be,” said Shelvey. “If it was in any court of law, I would have been found not guilty. It just goes on the panel’s verdict. You just have to deal with it and get on with it.

“I’m not going to sit around and cry about things. It’s gutting when nasty things are said about you, but that’s life – it’s about how you deal with it.”

When Shelvey was initially charged, Newcastle found themselves facing a dilemma. They could have hung their employee out to dry, but instead stood resolutely behind him, supporting his maintenance of his innocence while being careful not to brand Saiss a liar.

Their stance has not been forgotten by Shelvey, who has extra motivation to succeed this season because of the unstinting support he received from those above him.

“It could have gone either way with the club,” he said. “They could have thrown me by the wayside, but they stuck with me, they believed in me and I feel like I repaid them with my performances. The manager obviously thinks enough of me to keep me at the club and play me, so the main thing I need to do now is to repay him.”

It wasn’t always that way with Benitez, with the Newcastle manager having initially been sceptical about Shelvey’s ability to fit into his preferred playing style.

Having moved from Swansea City in the January of Newcastle’s relegation season, Shelvey found himself relegated to the bench for the final five matches of the campaign as his new club’s fate was sealed.

It has been forgotten amid the praise for his performances last term, but he was only on the substitutes’ bench as Newcastle lost their opening game of the season against Fulham. He returned to the starting line-up for the next match against Huddersfield, though, and aside from the enforced absence that followed his racial abuse charge, he did not miss another Championship fixture.

“I went away that summer (after relegation), and that’s when I really dug in because it could have gone either way,” he said. “If you are not playing at a club in the Championship when you have been playing for England, you think that it is just going to go downhill from there.

“I didn’t start the first game of the season and I started to doubt my ability. But then I got the chance to play, and I haven’t looked back since.

“With this support, and for this big a club – I don’t think people realise how big a club this actually is – if you can’t  go out there and perform, then there is something wrong with you.”

He will be able to perform on the grandest of stages again this season, and if he can carry his Championship form into the Premier League, it surely cannot be too long before he is being talked of as an England contender again.

He won the last of his six senior England caps in a friendly against France in November 2015, and with characteristic frankness, questions whether he would have played more often for his country had he been prepared to bite his tongue.

“If you look at the competition, we’re crying out for a central midfielder for our country, in my opinion,” he said. “But it’s just a matter of saying the right things in the press and things like that.

“That’s what goes on these days, it’s so fickle if you like. All I can do is just show in my performances that I warrant a place in the England team.”