Tuesday saw Twitter taken over by a rather unusual phenomenon in ‘Joe Allen Appreciation Day’, a campaign started by Liverpool fansite The Anfield Wrap.
The initiative saw the social media platform filled with satirical comparisons between Allen and various legendary midfielders such as Xavi, Andrea Pirlo, and Zinedine Zidane, references to his fondness for poultry as well as Joe Allen ‘quotes’ that may or may not have originally been said by some of history’s more illustrious characters.
— George (@ffsGeorge) June 21, 2016
— THE ANFIELD WRAP (@TheAnfieldWrap) June 21, 2016
— Robbie Fowler (@Robbie9Fowler) June 21, 2016
However, amongst the facetiousness, there is a growing appreciation for the Welshman’s quality as a footballer. Standout performances in two of Wales’ three European Championship group games have resulted in praise from all quarters. This has only served to enhance the fondness for Allen amongst Liverpool fans, many of whom he appeared to finally have won over in the second half of 2015-16.
It appears as though this resurgence has been too little, too late for Allen. Now in the last year of his Liverpool contract, a move away from Anfield appears extremely likely after the Euros, with former club Swansea reportedly the most likely destination.
Should this be the end of Allen’s career at Anfield, it will be a fitting reward for four years of hard work and dedication that he leaves with near-unanimous appreciation from an often vociferous fanbase. On the other hand, it remains a pity that it has taken so long for the player to win over his critics.
Things began so brightly for the 26-year-old. Named Man of the Match on his home debut against Manchester City in August 2012, Allen made Brendan Rodgers’ decision to spend £15m to join him from Swansea at Liverpool look like money well spent in his early days on Merseyside. Alas, a recurring shoulder injury disrupted his season from November onwards, meaning his maiden term at Anfield was somewhat of a disappointment.
2013-14 was somewhat similar. In general, Allen tended to function well as part of a midfield unit when Liverpool were in the ascendancy, shining on the left of the midfield diamond in the 3-0 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United but ultimately failing to nail down a regular place in Rodgers’ 2nd-placed side.
Allen’s best performances for Liverpool under Rodgers arguably came in Spring 2015, when playing with Jordan Henderson in a 3-4-3 system. The pair impressed in a 2-0 win at Southampton before winning the midfield battle at home to Man City in a 2-1 win as the Reds went 13 games unbeaten and flirted with a Champions League place.
The arrival of Jurgen Klopp was expected to spell trouble for the Welshmen, but perhaps the change of manager has done Allen the world of good. Having worked with Rodgers for a five-year period at two different clubs, fresh instructions, tactics and motivational techniques sparked the best spell of Allen’s Liverpool career, with goals against Arsenal, Watford and Exeter and numerous impressive cameos. He played an integral part in the Capital One Cup semi-final win over Stoke City, performing outstandingly in the first leg win at the Britannia Stadium before scoring the winning penalty in the shootout at Anfield.
Throughout his time on Merseyside, Allen has proved himself to be Liverpool’s most effective substitute. In addition to his ability to beat a player in the centre of the pitch and a rare appreciation for body shape when receiving a pass, the midfielder boasts supreme game intelligence. When sitting on the bench, it’s evident that he watches the game closely, carefully planning his entry to the fray.
The notable example was Liverpool’s Europa League first leg win over Man United in March. After dominating the first half, the Reds’ charge was halted somewhat by Louis van Gaal’s introduction of Michael Carrick in place of Marcus Rashford, giving the visitors more of a foothold in the game. Klopp responded by withdrawing goalscorer Daniel Sturridge for his number 24, a change that turned the tide of the game as Liverpool went on to capitalise on a Carrick mistake to add a second goal.
With this game as a precedent, it raises the question of why the manager didn’t repeat the trick in the Europa League final against Sevilla in May. Similarly, Liverpool had gone in at the break one goal to the good but were overwhelmed by an onslaught from the defending champions after the break. With the Spaniards dominating the midfield, Klopp resisted the urge to turn to Allen from the bench until the 73rd minute – by which time his side had already conceded three times.
It’s impossible to say whether or not introducing Allen earlier would have altered the result, but Klopp’s reluctance to use him having already opted to start James Milner and Lucas in midfield when both Henderson and Emre Can were out injured, along with the absence of a contract offer, suggests that his future lies elsewhere.
Even as the standout player when leading the midfield in dead-rubber Premier League games as the ex-Borussia Dortmund manager rotated his side between European ties, Allen couldn’t force his way into starting contention for the big games, despite Klopp asking his side to play “Joe Allen football” ahead of the 2-0 win over Watford in which he scored. The consensus is that things may be different if Allen was walking at 6’2″ instead of 5’6″.
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) June 22, 2016
A return to Swansea would see Allen become one of the top three players in the squad, a role he’s currently thriving in for his country in France. He has become extremely popular amongst Liverpool fans, with his technical quality, reading of the game and pressing now evident in addition to his ever-present hard work. He’s thought to be a popular figure in the dressing room for club and country, as evidenced by Ashley Williams’ quotes revealing that “Joe Allen Appreciation Day” is a weekly occurrence in the Welsh National Team Whatsapp group.
Liverpool fans bringing this celebration of their midfielder to Twitter is no more than Allen deserves for his professionalism and hard work over the last four years. Alas, moving on in search of more football may just be the best thing for his career at this point.
David Kennedy, Pundit Arena