Nicks’ note: We have a Liverpool post for you today. Rather like the transfer of Oussama Assaidi, this one is completely out of the blue. Moonmoon, a sports journo with a highly reputed magazine, has written for BigFourZa before; and she comes out of cryogenic sleep here to stop the bad press about Joe Allen.
Joe Allen. With a strongly British name, almost Charles Dickens-que in nature, and having being billed as one for the future, it should come as no surprise that Liverpool FC swooped in with an offer of 15 million pounds. A section of the fans felt it was a massive amount to be spent on someone who had yet to prove himself consistently at the top level. Another section, however, wants Allen to be given a chance (like every other signing at every other club) before judgment is passed on his success or failure, and the value he might bring.
Frightening, gamechanger, a catalyst – these are only some of the platitudes the Welshman has been lauded with since his transfer from Swans to Liverpool was first reported. Being hailed thusly will bring with itself a kind of pressure the diminutive midfielder could be unaware of. For instance, even Charlie Adam (now the slow one) was hailed for his ability to take superb free kicks and find teammates in the box with accurate passes while at Blackpool. Then there were Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing (honourably referred to as ‘Left Wing Jesus’ by Mirror, they just might be right) who did not push all the right buttons when they were brought in by Kenny Dalglish last season. Most of the summer transfers from last year still have to work to prove themselves, and a second season might just help them to find their place in the team. Having said so, Allen’s situation could be different. There are reasons to indicate why.
For one, Allen has previously worked with the manager Brendan Rodgers while at Swans. It was Rodgers who helped develop the player into a deep-lying playmaker. At Swansea, Allen formed a terrific partnership with Leon Britton (who was re-signed from Sheffield United). Stationed together in the middle of the Swans’ midfield, the duo helped the club achieve promotion to the Premier League. Rodgers is well-versed with the midfielder’s strengths and shortcomings. Allen, on his part, is equally versed with the kind of football Rodgers wants his team to play. In short, a fast-moving passing game, wherein players can move into different positions, keeping the ball and dictating the tempo. For Rodgers, possession is a mantra. It is also something that can win games, as shown by Spain. As long as your opponents do not have the ball, they cannot start a move, forget passing and landing the ball in the back of the net. And Allen fits the bill. Versatile in midfield, he is a composed and patient player. Rodgers has tutored him in the concept of utilising space to its utmost. Also, he is the kind of player that fits the FSG agenda – young and hardworking, still to hit the prime, raring to go, and with a decent resale value.
Comfortable with both feet, tactically aware and intelligent, Allen could become the link between a midfield that sputtered last year in Lucas’s absence and an attack that misfired at key points for various reasons. Allen would complement the midfield, which, although with quite a few players, did not do much. Allen’s arrival will mean Steven Gerrard can push forth, playing just behind the forward line, where he forged a dynamic understanding and relationship with Fernando Torres and Luiz Suarez. Without having to worry about holding on to the ball in midfield, Gerrard can revert to his role that was highly successful and work behind Suarez, Fabio Borini and Andy Carroll (if he stays put). The youngster can also deputise for Lucas if the Brazilian were to pick up a knock again.
Allen’s stats from last season read well. Coming on the back of a few injury-plagued seasons with the Swans, he played 2,891 minutes, with four goals from 36 appearances. He had the third highest number of tackles in the league, at 110 (only behind Yohan Cabaye with 117 and Moussa Dembele with 112). Allen’s 91.2% pass completion rate bettered that of more illustrious peers like Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric, Michael Carrick and Yaya Toure; it was also slightly better than Maxi Rodriguez who was Liverpool’s top passer last season with an accuracy of 90.6% from 394 passes. Allen won 82 tackles, the fourth highest total in the league, and made 2,177 successful passes, along with 256 recoveries and 74 interceptions. He also won 54.5% of his duels, beating an opponent 198 times. According to Anfield Index, Allen attempted 42 crosses last year with an accuracy of 30.95% (Modric led the tally among players who attempted more than 100 crosses at 37.7%). More numbers and figures can be dug out and juxtaposed, which can also make him look overhyped and plain. But the new boy doesn’t look all that mediocre.
In recent seasons, Liverpool have made a hash of most of their midfield signings. Selling Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid was a gripe most supporters haven’t come to terms with until today. Lucas Leiva was a success, albeit after a few years of taking an incredible amount of flak. Raul Meireles was another (although to a lesser extent due to his short time at the club). Comparisons are already being made with Alonso’s transfer from Real Sociedad in 2004, when he was brought in for a then-extravagant price of 10.5 million pounds on the back of one good season. But Rafael Benitez knew what the fans didn’t and Alonso, once he got off the blocks, proved to be a stunning catch. Scousers still marvel at what Alonso could do, both going forward and sitting defensively, although he was a tad slow there. That could be the situation with Rodgers as well, since he knows things his former protégé that we don’t. Call me an eternal optimist but in Allen, Liverpool may have a contender to bring back some of that lost sheen.