Every football manager has their standout buy. The player that, rightly or wrongly, they are always going to be judged on.
The standout buy always arrives at the club within weeks of the new manager, and often he makes the move having worked with the boss at a former home―almost always with a degree of success.
With the usually large price tag of such individuals always a key talking point, sometimes the standout buy comes to the club simply because the new manager has seen something in them from afar―in Liverpool’s case, witness Rafael Benitez and Kenny Dalglish’s purchases of Xabi Alonso and Andy Carroll, respectively.
That old standout buy rule still applies though, and although Liverpool were stung badly with the arrivals of Roy Hodgson and then Paul Konchesky in the summer of 2010, there was widespread nods of approval at Brendan Rodgers’ purchase of Joe Allen from his former club Swansea last summer. The move made sense.
Standard standout buy rules meant that there was to be much tutting and head-scratching over the £15m transfer fee, but the Welsh international was looked upon as a progressive purchase at a time when Liverpool’s midfield was in need of a restructuring. Allen, a key element of the Wales team of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Craig Bellamy which so impressed under the late Gary Speed, was signed to pull the strings.
Now, a look back at the 23-year-old’s first season with Liverpool―a season which is over already due to being sent for surgery to cure a long-standing shoulder problem―reveals that Allen didn’t really pull in as many fans as he’d have hoped to.
As the dynamic, often metronomic midfielder in Rodgers’ Swansea side, Allen was often seen buzzing around the pitch and getting involved in his team’s attacks―with his pass often the key, vital ingredient to another impressive Swans move.
In truth, the key moment in the Welshman’s first Liverpool season probably happened in the warm up before his first Anfield appearance in a match against Manchester City―and it was a moment which didn’t actually happen to him at all.
The unfortunate Lucas Leiva sustained a thigh injury before that match against the champions, and having tried to play through the pain barrier, the Brazilian was soon forced off just four minutes into the game to be replaced by Jonjo Shelvey.
The reshuffle meant that Allen was forced into the defensive midfield position for the afternoon and for the next three-and-a-half months—the difficult adaptation process to life at a new club was suddenly made all the tougher given that he was now forced to play behind his natural position.
He did okay in the role, but “okay” is never enough to shine at a club like Liverpool, whilst the energy required in the position meant that Allen was already beginning to look jaded before Christmas, when Rodgers was admitting that he was looking to give the Welshman and fellow youngster Raheem Sterling a break from the team (Daily Mail).
Sterling’s rest has been more heavily documented and was offset by the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, but Allen soon found himself in and out of the Reds side and seemingly―and one must say deservedly―surpassed by Jordan Henderson in Rodgers’ plans.
The result has seen Allen not so much forgotten at Liverpool, but certainly more overlooked than a £15m player should be.
It hasn’t helped that his two goals for the club both came on two of Liverpool’s most disappointing days of the season, when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by League One’s Oldham Athletic and then eliminated from the Europa League by Zenit St. Petersburg despite a stirring, Luis Suarez-led assault on an improbable comeback.
Those strikes were forgotten, as were a couple of fine displays during the Reds’ Europa League group stage when Allen was given a little more time and leeway on the ball. What remained was a collective belief that he could do more.
He’ll be trying to do just that when he comes back fully fit for Liverpool’s preseason campaign in the summer, when hopefully that shoulder surgery will have given him a little more freedom.
Is Allen, Liverpool’s 2012/13 standout buy, overrated or underrated?
It’ll be 2013/14 which gives us the answer.
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