Perhaps what people say is true. When you dislike someone, you begin to dislike everything about them. It extends to minute and completely irrational things. Sportspersons are, rather unfortunately, subjected to this quite often.
Joe Allen asked for neither his £15 million price tag nor the ludicrous branding as the ‘Welsh Xavi’ upon his transfer to Liverpool from Swansea in 2012. Yet they became sticks to beat him with as Liverpool finished the season in an underwhelming 7th.
He was initially bought as the kind of composed, technically sound midfielder who could be the key to Liverpool’s gradual shift to a more possession based game. It was Allen who was supposed to represent Liverpool’s new style better than anyone else, who was supposed to be a purveyor of footballing identity.
Yet the exact opposite happened. Allen was instead held up as the best representation of what was wrong with Liverpool in the 2010s, the unfortunate symbol of his manager’s flaws and a player of very little value to the side.
He was supposedly the embodiment of taking expensive punts on players who had impressed for middle-or-lower table clubs – the kinds who the ‘top’ teams would not have looked twice at, and the kinds did not have the requisite mentality to ever succeed at the top level.
It seemed strange to attack him for not performing in roles he was unfamiliar with. Allen has always been a decent technical footballer, with neat passing and a calm, unhurried edge to his game, plus a willingness to work hard and cover his spaces. This has always been his style, and Allen has hardly deviated from it in his four years at Anfield.
He was attacked for being too small and not strong enough to succeed in a defensive midfield role. He was attacked for not scoring enough, for not assisting enough. He was the clean cut boy – neat, trimmed and obedient, but with none of the incisiveness, the charisma and the maverick to seize a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around.
Allen did show signs of recovery under Jurgen Klopp last season. Although he played fewer league games than he did under Brendan Rodgers, Allen made more appearances in Europe than ever before (11) during Liverpool’s run to the Europa League final.
In the second half of the season especially, Allen was given a much more well defined role, and his work rate and the control he brought to the midfield made him a valuable member of the squad. Confidence restored, Allen began performing with far greater consistency than at any point in his Liverpool career. He even scored a career best of 3 goals in 2015-16.
Strangely, though, improved performances were not repaid with greater trusts on the part of either Klopp or the club. Allen made a total of 37 appearances last season – 19 in the league, 2 in the FA Cup, 5 in the League Cup and 11 in the Europa League. Of these, 18 were from the bench – a little short of half his total appearances.
Despite consistent performances when introduced during the game, Allen was not trusted enough to start games on a regular basis. For Liverpool’s two biggest games of the season, the League Cup final against Manchester City and the Europa League final against Sevilla, Allen was an unused substitute and came off the bench respectively.
Klopp’s curious coolness towards the Welshman was not shared by the fan base. Their acknowledgement of Allen’s worth was long overdue, but perhaps this is a case of better late than never.
However, the ‘late’ may soon transform into ‘never’ for Allen at Liverpool. An impressive showing during the Euros, in Wales’ run to the semi-finals, was good enough to earn the midfielder a place in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament. And yet, he enters the final 12 months of his contract at Liverpool with no rumours of an extension.
Allen had to fight for his place in the team last season, and to his credit, he rose to this challenge admirably. However, he was rewarded with neither more inclusions in the starting eleven nor a contract extension. The 2016-17 season holds a similar challenge for him, and is arguably the defining moment, the make-or-break campaign of his career.
The pressure of a rapidly expiring contract and an uncertain future is hanging over his head this time. But Allen has already had an encouraging performance in the Euros, and if he can keep this form up, he can become a key part of the team and, crucially, win back his manager’s trust. He certainly deserves more than he has got of it.