BRENDAN Rodgers resisted the ray of warm sunshine that flashed through the window in front of him by wearing a long, grey coloured mac. Perching himself on a table he began to confidently explain how his Swansea City team had secured their Premier League future following a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers. Considering the level of domination, it was a game Swansea should have won.
Usually, a manager completes his immediate post-match duties for the Sunday papers by giving a five-minute interview in front of the television cameras before retreating to a quieter corridor or a back room where he does another one for Monday, giving a similar amount of time depending on his mood. On this occasion, Rodgers offered around 15 minutes for the second sitting alone. He was generous, warm, ambitious and generally very impressive.
During the conversation, Joe Allen’s name was mentioned. He’d been imperious in Swansea’s midfield that afternoon: knitting play together, making key passes and snapping into challenges with opponents — winning his personal battles. Earlier in the season, Swansea, Rodgers and Allen had come to Anfield and performed magnificently. Rodgers had made Kenny Dalglish seem like yesterday’s man and yet, again — a draw was recorded when victory should have been Swansea’s.
At Bolton, Rodgers compared Allen to Xavi, “He’s a little bit like him,” he said — which everyone realised to be quite a compliment and naturally used the line in their reports printed a few days later. The same thing had happened a year earlier when Swansea closed in on a place in the Championship’s play-offs.
When Rodgers became Liverpool’s manager, one of his first actions was to pursue Allen. Before he was even appointed he told Fenway Sports Group that he was the type of player he would look to sign; someone who is young, relatively cheap and highly skilled. Liverpool, he claimed, did not have a midfielder like him.
During the infamous Being Liverpool documentary — which Rodgers wasn’t overly keen featuring in but was persuaded to do so by influences above — Allen moved not only from Swansea to Liverpool but from being “a bit like” Xavi to affirmatively “the Welsh Xavi” when Rodgers was filmed using the term as the pair embraced after a five-year deal was signed.
The reaction proves that you can say something in front of a few journalists in the Championship or at Bolton and nobody will really listen but you can say more or less the same thing working for Liverpool with the whole world watching and it will mean a lot more.
The significance of the comment proved to be enduring both for player and for manager.
Suddenly, Allen had not just moved from Swansea to Liverpool but was placed on a pedestal in line with one of the world’s greatest players and, because of his subsequent struggle to get anywhere near justifying the tag, it contributed towards Rodgers no longer being trusted to make the recruits he absolutely desired with that responsibility being influenced thereafter by the transfer committee.
For many Liverpool supporters the Allen-Xavi link simply made Rodgers seem deluded from pretty much day one.
Across three-and-a-quarter seasons under Rodgers, indeed, Allen was unable to establish consistency, with injuries hampering his progress whenever any sort of momentum was made and confidence appearing to be lost as a consequence.
Allen turned 26 last month and with less than 15 months of the aforementioned five-year contract remaining, Liverpool have so far yet to open negotiations for a new one despite him finally starting to show he can make decisive contributions in key games.
He was one of Liverpool’s best players in the League Cup semi-final first leg away at Stoke City and converted the tie-winning penalty that sent Liverpool through in the second leg two weeks later.
In between, he scored an injury-time equaliser in the draw at home to Arsenal. In Dortmund last Thursday he improved Liverpool’s midfield after his half-time introduction and then carried out a starring role in the 4-1 beating of Stoke on Sunday when he told reporters that he was “fighting for his Liverpool future more than ever,” following a standing ovation from supporters at the moment of his substitution — a sign that he will start again when Dortmund arrive at Anfield tomorrow night.
Perhaps his frustration at not playing as much as he would like under Jürgen Klopp has resulted in a more aggressive performance when he has been selected.
What he has always done well is making sure he is in the right place at the right time from a positional point of view defensively, cutting off the gaps and reducing the possibility of through balls being made.
Considering there is an increasing trend at Liverpool to measure effectiveness by statistics it is unfortunate for him that there is no data available that reflects basic human traits like common sense. He has so far neither offered the number goals or assists to bring into focus his rather more subtle contributions.
From within the club, Allen’s association with Rodgers lingers and there is a sense he is viewed as a pet-project championed by a failed former manager whose entire tenure is viewed dimly by many supporters because of the regression of the team in the last 18 months.
His prospects at Liverpool hang in the balance.