x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Joe Allen is key to Brendan Rodgers' Anfield rebuild

The midfielder joined his manager in making the switch to Liverpool, and is fast repaying the faith, writes Richard Jolly .

Joe Allen, the Liverpool midfielder, has been one of the few highlights in his new club’s indifferent start to the season. He played in the 2-0 loss at Anfield to Arsenal in the Premier League.
Joe Allen, the Liverpool midfielder, has been one of the few highlights in his new club’s indifferent start to the season. He played in the 2-0 loss at Anfield to Arsenal in the Premier League.

The first time Joe Allen played at Anfield, he received a generous ovation. It might not be unusual for Liverpool players but for one detail: the midfielder was in the white of Swansea City at the time.

It was the first time, too, that a Brendan Rodgers side was applauded off the hallowed turf after a goalless draw illuminated by Allen's passing.

Jump ahead 10 months and the Anfield public remain enchanted by Allen. While Liverpool languish in the relegation zone of the embryonic league table, their start to the season has contained at least one positive: Allen has had people purring. A small man with the £15 million (Dh87.2m) price tag is having a big impact.

"He is 5ft 6ins but in terms of a footballer, he is 7ft 6ins," said Rodgers. "He is absolutely immense in his courage to get on the ball, how he reads the game and his football intelligence. We paid £15m but I said when he came in that price will double. Some people probably laughed."

They are not now. Colleagues are becoming admirers. "I think Joe Allen is brilliant," his fellow midfielder Jonjo Shelvey said. "The way he keeps the ball and the tenacity to get the ball back, as well, is outstanding."

The midfield metronome finished his debut Premier League campaign with a pass completion rate of 91.2 per cent and has been still more accurate in his distribution in a Liverpool shirt.

With an instinctive ability to find space to receive a pass before playing another, Allen has the characteristics that prompt comparisons by Anfield old-timers.

"He reminds me a little bit of Ronnie Whelan," said Mike Marsh, the first-team coach, harking back to the veteran of six league titles. An ability to press as well as pass means that, Marsh said: "Joe is very good defensively."

The sort of player who knits teams together, his talent was recognised at an early age. At nine, he entered Swansea's youth system. At 16, he debuted, albeit in the Welsh Cup. Soon after his 17th birthday he made his first Football League appearance. Not, he said, that his bows had happy endings. His first league game for Liverpool was a 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion, continuing a theme.

"In my debut for Swansea, we lost to Port Talbot Town in extra time," he said. "Then my league debut came as a substitute in a 6-3 defeat to Blackpool. You learn to recover from moments like that."

Allen did; the teenager was a bit-part player as Roberto Martinez's side won promotion from League One and then began to feature more often in the Championship before prospering in the Premier League last season.

Starting in humbler surroundings benefited him, he believes.

"I think if you look at the amount of games I've played for someone my age, that would probably only happen at a team that's come through the leagues," he said. "That experience has been vital for me. I wouldn't change it for the world."

Now 22, those games have been shared between four sides in a short space of time. "A pretty incredible couple of months" is how he describes teaming up with first Ryan Giggs and then Steven Gerrard.

He said: "It's been great, one amazing experience after another. What we achieved with Swansea was special. Then to play more games for Wales, represent Great Britain at the Olympics and sign for Liverpool, as well, it has been pretty hectic."

Indeed, his life has just got busier: last Thursday, he became a father for the first time when son Alfie was born.

Allen was one of the standout performers as Stuart Pearce's side reached the quarter-finals at the Olympic Games, but it was not without an embarrassment.

In the match day programme, Allen was described as English. Actually, he was born in Carmarthen, in the west of Wales and grew up in nearby Narberth, near the Irish Sea and one of the most Celtic parts of the country: Allen is a rare Welsh speaker in professional football, although many people preserve their ancient tongue in Pembrokeshire.

On the pitch, he speaks the same language as another Celt, the Northern Irishman Rodgers.

"He's shown me nothing but faith and that's been a massive help," Allen said. "He's a brilliant coach and person, someone who you are desperate to please."

Thus far, he is doing that. It is a mutual appreciation society. "The Liverpool supporters are going to enjoy watching this kid play," Rodgers said after the 2-2 draw with Manchester City, when Allen turned in a man-of-the-match performance. They already are.

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