When Brendan Rodgers replaced previous Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish in the Anfield dugout last summer, he told the club’s American owners that there was one player above all that he needed with him by his side in his debut campaign on Merseyside, and that man was Swansea City’s Joe Allen.
Rodgers knew the Wales international well from their time working together at the Liberty Stadium and immediately got his wish as the Reds signed the midfield player on a long-term contract for an eyebrow-raising £15 million last August, making Allen the most expensive footballer in the principality's history.
And early on in his Liverpool career, the Northern Irishman raised the stakes for his new young charge by comparing his skills to those of Barcelona’s venerated midfield player Xavi Hernandez, commenting in the Daily Star the following:
He’s unique in that he’s a British player who is incredible on the ball....His courage in getting on the ball, how he reads the game and his football intelligence is outstanding.
However, initially Rodgers’ comparison did not appear that far fetched, as Allen impressed the Liverpool faithful with a series of man-of-the-match displays, and this despite the fact that the team itself was struggling badly for form at the start of the campaign.
Yet the cheers in the Welshman’s ears soon faded to be replaced by jeers as a succession of hurdles arose to stall his early-season momentum, starting with the beginnings of the shoulder problem that would ultimately bring a premature end to his campaign when he was forced to undergo surgery to correct the injury in March.
It's difficult to say [whether the injury affected my game]. I don't want to use it as an excuse, that's for sure. But I'd like to see how it is once it's fixed, and I'd like to think it's going to help me massively.
Another obstacle that Allen had to overcome was the return to full fitness in December of fellow midfield player Lucas Leiva who, despite initially being paired alongside the new recruit, ultimately ended up taking his spot in the first XI as Rodgers desperately sought a winning formula for the Reds.
"It's a big step up when you go from Swansea to Liverpool, but he had a fantastic start," was the opinion of a man who knows a thing or two about how to play the holding midfield role at Anfield, Dietmar Hamann (via the BBC).
Hamann continued: "He was absolutely outstanding for the first few months, then he missed a couple of games, Lucas [Leiva] has come back in the team, who missed the early parts of the season through injury, and then [Allen] found it hard to get back into the team."
However, the former Germany international is upbeat about Allen’s Liverpool future, saying the following (also via the BBC): "I think for the first year he's done ever so well, and you've got to give him time—he's only young. He showed his potential, if anything he'll only get better, and I think there's a lot to look forward to."
And there are in actual fact plenty of reasons to be as optimistic as Hamann is about Allen’s second season at Liverpool, especially if as expected the player fully recovers from his shoulder injury to be able to take part in a full preseason with which to help kick off the new campaign.
In many ways there was very little wrong with the start the youngster made to his Liverpool career, and Rodgers will be keen to rekindle Allen’s partnership with Lucas at the base of the Reds midfield next season, in a similar way to how Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano used to operate in tandem while allowing Steven Gerrard more forward freedom under Rafa Benitez’s management.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has no doubts about the qualities Allen brings to his team, explaining in the Daily Star the following:
Joe’s role is to keep the ball. And that, in Britain, is a special talent. He will have a long career here. He’s a wonderful talent, and over time people will see what facets he’s got in his game.
Where we have been really pleased with Joe is with his tactical discipline. Maybe he’s never going to score as many as Steven Gerrard, but he’s certainly got quality going forward.
Offensively, he has far more than what a lot of people have seen, just because he’s having to play a more sitting role at the moment.
I have played him in there because he knows how to control the game. He is courageous and will go and get the ball in any area.
It is his tactical discipline to stay and keep the shape of the team and offer the passing line which has been really good, though.
However, it is not just as a defensive-midfield player that Allen can operate, although that is clearly his best role at present in the team, as he has the skills, versatility and game intelligence to take on a number of different positions on the field of play, according to Hamann (per the BBC):
If he adds skills to his game, then I think he can play in various positions in the centre of midfield because he's a clever player, he's a very good passer of the ball, he spots danger and he's a team player.
Now he needs to crack on and take his game to the next level, not only for Liverpool but also for Wales.
He's at a top club now. He will have gained a lot of experience from that, and I hope he can put that to good use for his club and country.
I think you will see a lot more from him in the future, because he is a terrific player.
So let’s just forget about the Welshman’s price tag, his lack of goals and his supposedly over-conservative play and remember for a moment that Allen was making great strides at Anfield last season before a debilitating shoulder problem struck.
Is Allen good enough to play for Liverpool?
And paired alongside Lucas as duel holding midfield players, the pair will actually give the Reds the extra defensive protection that they were missing for large parts of the previous campaign, while also having the added advantage of moving Gerrard closer to the opposition goal, which could be vital following the expected departure of Luis Suarez this summer.
Consequently, it is simply a case of more of the same from Liverpool’s Welsh Dragon at Anfield next season, give or take a little fine-tuning here or there...