Joe Allen is one of the finest examples in recent years of young British talent. He combines composure, vision and well-rooted experience and all this at the tender age of just 22. Why have some Liverpool fans turned against him so soon?
On the evening of the 10th of August, no Liverpool fan was despondent at the signing of Joe Allen from Swansea City. He, maybe, was seen as ever so slightly overpriced for someone who had only one Premier League season under his belt but people had belief that the new manager, Brendan Rodgers, knew what he was doing after working with the player so closely. In some ways Allen was a hallmark signing. He set the foundations of the philosophy in which Brendan was looking to employ. He was the proof of the revolution. No longer would Steven Gerrard’s frequent sixty-yard cross-field passes be tolerated under Rodgers but instead the slow build up play, in a dominating midfield, would be the order of the day.
It was clear that Rodgers’ had a clear vision. He needed players to carry this ethos into the dressing room and especially onto the pitch. At Swansea Allen had become, alongside Britton, one of the hardest midfields to unlock. They had the right chemistry to succeed and their styles combined as beautifully as bacon does with egg. Perhaps just bringing Allen would be the mistake? Did the Welshman play well because of the system he was in and the way it was already established?
Roberto Martinez had implemented the passing culture before Rodgers at SWA1; therefore Allen had grown into it beside the other first team players who followed the teachings as closely as a religion. At Liverpool it would be a different story. Allen would become the naïve teacher in a classroom reluctant to change. The new schoolmaster was seeping in a sophisticated way of playing football from which he had learned from his cultural travels abroad. These travels had ingrained a system that has become denoted as Rodgers’ way. Allen is central to this.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, if you don’t have the ball you can’t score.” Brendan Rodgers
As much as you might watch Joe Allen and think ‘he doesn’t do much’, he is actually dictating how the powers above him want the ball to be moved. At the heart of the team he is almost, at this early phase in the development of Liverpool’s style, irreplaceable. It has struck me that fans are becoming inpatient. They recognise that Allen is the conductor in the orchestra and therefore he takes the brunt of the blame. Has he been as bad as people have made out? Far from it. Are people getting impatient at Allen’s performances or are they actually picking his faults up as part of the collective teams league position and the demeanour that comes with it? Is Allen a scapegoat for fan frustration? Quite possibly.
For the fans that aren’t necessarily keen on Rodgers as a manager, Allen becomes the obvious choice to blame. He was Brendan’s signing. Brendan hyped him. Brendan played him. Brendan has stuck with him through poor performances. Brendan has defended him at every possible opportunity. It works out that he is the perfect scapegoat for people that seek that quick fix to former glory.
Recently I have noticed that people who witnessed Liverpool’s ‘former glory’ are more likely to pick holes in Allen’s performances or Rodgers’ management style. People that grew up in the nineties aren’t used to scouse prosperity and utter Mersey-red dominance as much as those who were blessed with watching the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Co. They also haven’t grown up being brainwashed by the phenomenal Barcelona and their passing style that Liverpool are trying to replicate. Perhaps they don’t understand that a style such as that of the Blaugrana takes time to ripen and that Allen is just a an interpreter that has been lost in translation. These fans want to reside in the success of yesteryear and seek to justify failings as soon as they appear.
At the start of the season Joe Allen was receiving plaudits for everything he touched. He was god in whatever he did. He passed the ball with such aplomb that it was hard to ignore him. He made the game and, most importantly, Liverpool tick over at the pace he wanted. Until November you could have argued that the young man from Pembrokeshire was as close as Liverpool have come to a midfield metronome since Xabi Alonso.
There are a lot of similarities between Allen and Alonso and not just the fact that both of their surnames begin with the same letter. Both of the midfielders had a fully fit Steven Gerrard beside them and both play in between a more advanced midfielder and one that sits slightly deeper. Allen has Lucas and Xabi had Mascherano. Both of these ‘protectors’, you could argue, are at the top of their game when they play alongside both Allen and Alonso. With Alonso it worked so well, so why is there people saying that Allen and Lucas can’t play together?
When they play together the break down of the opposition’s midfield is sublime; there is no arguments with that and ball retention is also superb. However the energy that both players lack in their game seems to infuriate a large majority of fans. Again it comes down to patience. If Gerrard plays the prominent role in the midfield you would expect him to create chances.
In the recent match at Old Trafford I think I witnessed Joe Allen have his worst 45 minutes in a red shirt. There were calls for him to be hooked at half time and for Jordan Henderson to take his place as to inject some enthusiasm into the midfield. When people saw that it wasn’t Allen to be replaced at half time but Lucas, a twitter storm ensued. Rodgers engaged in a system change. He would drop Allen into the more defensive minded midfielder alongside an advanced Steven Gerrard in more of a modified 4-4-2. Allen controlled the game fantastically from this position despite the poor first half showing. When your team is in control of the ball I don’t think there is a better player in the league to keep possession. This then allowed Gerrard to get forward and support Suarez and Sturridge as the pressure built on United.
This obviously introduces more fuel to the fire of the Lucas/Allen failed partnership, but I don’t see it that way. Lucas isn’t fully fit. Allen is lacking in confidence. Together they can be fantastic. As a set of deep midfielders I think there is depth in a squad that was so thin at the start of the season.
Allen plays the game with grace. He is a delight to watch and he is only young. I’m sure he's learning from players like Gerrard and Lucas in training every day. He is at the right club and he will continue to succeed if given the chance by Rodgers, but more importantly the fans. They need to get off his back and allow him to flourish. His football brain is on a similar level to that of Luis Suarez but his genius is not always recognised and his bright start to the season proves this. Watching him for a full ninety minutes is reassuring – I feel like I can relax when he is on the ball; something I haven’t felt with a Liverpool midfielder since the departure of Alonso to Madrid. I think he is becoming more of a scapegoat as each individual match wears on. Underperformances in the squad are certainly not just limited to a singular player.
Stay with lil’ Joey. Believe me. He’s a genius.854917