Rafa Benitez says Jonjo Shelvey could be a “great player” for England.
The midfielder hasn’t played for his country since joining Newcastle United two years ago.
Shelvey has hit form in recent months.
And there were calls for him to be included in the last England squad.
However, Gareth Southgate, finalising his selection for the summer’s World Cup finals, overlooked Shelvey and club-mate Jamaal Lascelles for last month’s friendlies against Italy and Holland.
Asked if he was surprised at Shelvey’s omission, Benitez said: “I don’t know if they were thinking about him and maybe after they decided not to take him for the last game.
“Sometimes, maybe you’re close and you don’t know.
“And sometimes, when you have 19 players and you have to pick 18, maybe he’s doing well and he could be on the bench.
“Maybe he was in the head of the manager and then, in the end, he said ‘I had to pick these players’.
“He’s different, so he can be a good player for any squad.
“If you have the motivation of the World Cup, I think he will be great. I’m sure the manager will think the other players will be great, too.
“But my feeling is that if he’s going there focused, then he can be a great player.”
Former Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer tweeted his “surprise” at Shelvey’s omission from the last England squad.
And ex-Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy backed Shelvey for England’s World Cup squad on Match of the Day last weekend.
“In terms of opening up a packed defence, Shelvey’s the best England have got,” said Murphy.
For his part, Benitez believes that Shelvey offers Southgate a different option in midfield.
“What I like about Jonjo is that he’s different from the players that they have already, and he can do a lot of things,” said Benitez. “And, for three weeks, he can be a very important player if he’s a part of things.
“But it’s not my decision. He (Southgate) knows his group, the players he has, what he wants to do. As a Newcastle United manager, is he a very good player? Yes, I think so.”
Shelvey, signed from Swansea City in January 2016, has been sent off a number of times in his career.
The 26-year-old was dismissed for stamping on Tottenham Hotspur and England midfielder Dele Alli on the opening weekend of the season.
Asked about Shelvey’s temperament, Benitez said: “He’s quite focused. Still, I think he will be even better for this kind of competition (the World Cup).
“You know you have to stay really focused on the game, without any distraction.
“You don’t need anything for 10 months that can make a distraction. It’s just three weeks, and that’s it.”