In his first column for our new Talking Reds feature, Harry Hugo from The Bib Theorists tells us why Joe Allen remains key to Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool project…
British talent is scarcely found in the modern Premier League and when it is, the hype is usually unfounded. There have been too many cases where these players have broken onto the scene, impressed, then fallen off a cliff. Lots have raw talent but their downfall is their lack of football intelligence. They override confidence to the degree of arrogance and karma smacks them back into place.
Joe Allen is different. He combines composure, vision and intellect at a young age. A few have ignored his impressive start to the season, instead remembering his form towards the end of the term - which he publically confessed to have been unsatisfactory.
British talent costs money, even when it's someone who had only one Premier League season to fall back on, but Allen was a hallmark signing. He set the foundations of the philosophy which Brendan was looking to employ from the very beginning. He was the proof of the revolution, the evidence of change. No longer would frequent 60-yard cross-field passes be tolerated under Rodgers. Instead, slow build-up play with a worthy end product would become paramount to the style's success.
It's opaque; Rodgers has a clear vision. He needs players to carry this ethos into the dressing room and onto the pitch. At Swansea Allen had become, alongside Leon Britton, one of the tightest midfields to unlock. The pairing had the chemistry to flourish in a tika-taka test tube and their styles combined as beautifully as bacon does with egg. It was that connection that made the partnership so formidable, a destroyer and a shuttle. Swansea had the perfect, unsung double-pivot. It was a trust bond, a precipitate midfield.
Roberto Martinez implemented the passing culture before Rodgers at the Liberty Stadium; thus Allen had grown beside the other first-team players who followed the teachings almost as closely as a religion; kneeling at the alter of pass and move. At Liverpool it would be a different story: Allen would be the only disciple in the dressing room as our new schoolmaster was seeping in a sophisticated way of playing football learned on his culture-rich travels abroad. Allen is central to 'the Rodgers way'
At the heart of the team he is almost, at this early phase in the development of Liverpool's style, irreplaceable. It struck me that fans became impatient all too quickly.
At the start of the season, Joe Allen was receiving plaudits for everything he touched. He was clapped ceremoniously with every neat shimmy and pass. He moved the ball around with such aplomb that it became hard to ignore. He made the game, and most importantly the team, tick over at the pace he wanted and, until November, you could have argued the young man from Pembrokeshire was as close as Liverpool has come to a midfield metronome since Xabi Alonso.
I fully believe that his football brain is on a similar level to that of Luis Suarez but his genius is not always recognised. The man himself has admitted that his form dipped in the second half of the season - and it takes a bigger man than most to come out and engineer publicity for himself and accept blame - but watching him for a full 90 minutes is reassuring. I feel like I can relax when he is on the ball; something I haven't felt with a Liverpool midfielder since the departure of Alonso to Madrid.
Allen plays the game with grace. He is a delight to watch and he is young. I'm sure he's learning from players like Steven Gerrard in training every day and, given time, he will continue to succeed if given the chance by Rodgers but, more importantly, the fans. Take a step back and let him realise his enormous potential.
He isn't a defensive midfielder a la Lucas, nor does he have the attacking tenacity of a Gerrard - but for breaking down moves in the midfield and starting new ones, there aren't many better in the league than Rodgers' scholar.
Underperformances at the end of last season should not hamper our expectations - Liverpool Football Club is about expectations and pursuing the best from an individual. The scary thing for me is, I think Joe Allen will surpass all expectations - as long as we give him the chance to.