Little big man: 15m mini midfielder Allen's big ambitions at Liverpool
21:48 GMT, 17 August 2012
The first thing that strikes you about Joe Allen is his size. Midfielders in the Barclays Premier League often resemble characters from Land of the Giants, with their bulk and power. But Liverpool’s new 15million man, all 5ft 6in of him, is elfin in stature.
To see him walk into a room not far from the fabled ‘This is Anfield’ sign and hear him speak, it would be easy to mistake Allen for a university graduate. Given his father is a dentist and his mother a nurse, he could easily have pursued a career in medicine.
Yet Allen, whose parents allowed him to ‘follow his dream’, has shown you don’t need to be a colossus to flourish in the top flight and his ability to retain possession is the reason Rodgers was so desperate to bring him to Merseyside from Swansea this summer.
Good on the ball: Joe Allen has an excellent pass completion rate
To put into perspective how impressively he performed last season, consider this: Allen’s pass completion rate of 91 per cent was better than one of Barcelona’s fabled conductors, Andres Iniesta. No Liverpool midfielder managed better than 86 per cent.
‘You can read stats how you like,’ said Allen, almost blushing when the facts are relayed. ‘It’s great to hear those things; to be associated with those players is a dream. Xavi and Iniesta are two players I admire massively. They really inspired me to play a similar sort of football.
‘If you think I’m small now you should have seen me when I made my debut (as a 16-year-old against Blackpool). You would be surprised. I was even slimmer and smaller then.
‘When I was younger, it was a big issue for some people. I was always confident there were other aspects of my game that were better off because of my size. But there were a few doubters.
Superman: Allen is hoping to help Liverpool adapt to Brendan Rodgers' football philosophy
SMALL BUT DEADLY
Joe Allen is one of a few mini-marvels in the middle of the park who could light up the Premier League this season.
Joe Allen (Liverpool) — 5ft 6in
Signed from Swansea for 15m
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) — 5ft 7in
Signed from Lille for 32m
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) — 5ft 6in
Signed from Malaga for 16m
Vurnon Anita (Newcastle) 5ft 6in
Signed from Ajax for 6.7m
‘I’ve been lucky that every manager I’ve
played under at Swansea has been someone who has played the style of
football that suits me down to the ground.’
None more than Rodgers. The new man at Liverpool believes in giving opposition teams ‘death by football’, a style that frustrates them to the point of distraction, passing them into submission. The first proper glimpse will be at the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon.
For that philosophy to pay off at Liverpool, Allen, 22, will play an integral role. The interchanging he will do with Steven Gerrard and Lucas in midfield will provide the foundations for the forward trio of Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini and Stewart Downing to cause mayhem. ‘He is a manager who instils faith and confidence in you,’ said Allen, whose switch to Anfield was sealed after he had represented Britain at the Olympics.
‘It really makes a difference and helps when you go out on to the pitch. I’m sure the other players will find that out soon.
Chit chat: Allen talks to Jay Spearing in training
‘I think they are all looking forward to it as much as me. The manager is passionate about football. His heart will be in this job 24/7. Individually and collectively, he will give every player what they need to go out on that pitch and perform.’
If Rodgers has played an integral role in propelling Allen to the position in which he finds himself, it would be wrong to overlook Gary Speed’s input. The late Wales manager predicted that Allen would play on the biggest stage, and his words continue to provide rich encouragement.
‘He was very influential,’ said Allen. ‘He was a great man who is sadly missed by everyone. In the year before his death, he was massive for me. If there are times when there are any doubts, you remember the things he said and you realise that you’re not doing too badly.
‘I’m ambitious. I’ve always dreamed about playing at this level and I have worked every day of my life to try to get here. I’m someone who wants to be the best I can be every single day.’