THERE have been many divisive figures at Liverpool down the years, including several in Jürgen Klopp’s current squad. One man’s Dalglish is another man’s Dundee, and at this time of year when transfers are treated as the be all and end all of everything, the options are apparently clear cut. ‘Keep him’ or ‘Get rid’.
More often than not though, the options are far from that simple. Summing up a player’s next career move, or what choices a club has in each scenario is pretty tricky to box off in 140 characters or less on Twitter.
So, Joe Allen then.
The Welsh Xavi/Pirlo/other laboured connection to a player that likes to pass the ball lots is at a crossroads in his career. Since he was brought to the club by Brendan Rodgers in 2012, he has mostly been seen in the same way by the majority of the support as a decent player who doesn’t have any real standout qualities and is nothing more than a ‘good squad player’, however fair that may have been.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016 and, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a scenario where one half of the fanbase are demanding he be given a new contract, while the other half think he should be moved on.
Allen had a bit of a strange 2015-16 season. One of the reasons some fans struggled to warm to him beforehand was his connection to Rodgers. He was seen as almost a symbol of Rodgers’ football and when that started to go a bit wrong, the opinions on Allen started to lean towards the negative.
When Rodgers left part way through last season it was assumed that Allen would struggle, having not worked under any other club manager in over five years. However, the Welshman’s form improved fairly drastically under Jürgen Klopp.
Though he certainly has less detractors than he used to, those who champion his continued stay at Anfield maintain that it should be as a part of the squad rather than a regular fixture in the starting XI, which is why the waters appear to have been muddied regarding his future.
Would Allen be happy to just be a squad player, or will sitting on the bench week in, week out not make wee Joe bored? (That’s one of those things people use to talk to the dead isn’t it?)
He has just one year remaining on his current deal, with the club yet to enter into negotiations on a new one. He’s 26-years old so his next deal will be the biggest one he has left in his career. It appears that the interested suitors should he be let go or decides to leave are Celtic and a reunion with Rodgers, or Swansea and a return to the Liberty Stadium.
Allen’s agent, Glenn Corcoran, recently told the Daily Record that his client’s wages could prove to be an issue if the Scottish champions want to make a move for him. He is not one of the highest earners at Anfield, but he certainly would be at Parkhead.
Corcoran’s comments were interesting regarding the matter, he said: “This is the first I have heard of this. Joe has a year left on his contract at Liverpool and nobody has spoken to us about extending that.
“The club have not spoken to us about selling him either.
“If Liverpool were willing to sell – and that is a big ‘if’ because I’ve not had that conversation with the club – they would ask for too much money for him.
“I don’t know if Celtic at this moment would be willing to spend that sort of money and the wages would also be a massive issue.”
Allen has also admitted recently in an interview quoted by The Guardian that his future is currently up in the air, and said that after a talk with Klopp in January, it was agreed that his situation would be discussed once he returns from Euro 2016.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 1, 2016
“There was a conversation with the club in terms of what the future did hold for me, if I would feature more or if I would feature in the plans moving forward,” Allen revealed at Wales’ training camp in Portugal.
“They made it clear at that stage I wouldn’t be moving anywhere (in January). I knew where I stood and it was good to have that conversation and know that I had the second half of the season to look forward to with Liverpool.
“As soon as the season finished with Liverpool I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to have any distractions and I am fully focused and engaged on purely all things Wales’. That’s where I am at the moment. We have had an intense season and I’m sure there will be a week or two after the Euros before any discussions are had.
“I think (my future) hinges on the pre-season plans and what exactly the club are hoping to do, everything comes into that. The acquisitions and who they are going to get in. Until all that happens it is difficult to answer that question.
“As a footballer you want to play every minute of every game. When you don’t it can be disappointing. That’s natural for anyone; that’s not specific to me. It’s how you react. You have to make sure you don’t let it affect you to a point that, when you do get your chances, you’re not up to it.”
The player wants games, and it appears that his future at Liverpool depends on what the club wants and who else they sign in the meantime.
Allen’s transformation in popularity with the fans has been put down to his improvement in form in the second half of the season, including scoring a dramatic late equaliser against Arsenal at Anfield while also bagging the opener against Watford toward the end of the campaign.
Allen’s role under Klopp has largely been bit part, as it was for the majority of the time under Rodgers in spite of people suggesting that he was a favourite of the former Reds boss. But he took on an interesting role once the German arrived. He would be a useful option off the bench in important games where more control and calmness was needed in the middle, however, he mainly got his starts by leading the second-string side that frequented Liverpool games in the league and FA Cup towards the end of the season in between Europa League ties.
So how does Allen take that? As a slight that Klopp saw him as a second-string player? Or a compliment that his manager trusted him to lead by example for those players, perhaps an even more difficult job than being in the first-choice XI surrounded by better quality and more experience?
After the 2-0 win over Watford at Anfield in May, Klopp had this to say on the midfielder: “In the meeting today I said it would be cool if we could play ‘Joe Allen football’ – brilliant technique, hard-working, very lively, very energetic. He is a great player. In good teams with more good players than you need, you have situations like this (rotation). But he takes the situation brilliantly, he is a wonderful boy and professional football player. That’s really good. Today without Joe would have been completely different. So I’m completely fine with him.”
He has been playing with an increased confidence and assuredness this season, and while some may say that Klopp has played a major factor in this, it cannot be underestimated just how much of it is down to the player’s decision to grow his hair out and produce a mighty beard on his face. All of a sudden a rather short and fairly timid-looking player was looking like a rather short and gnarly-looking player who seemed to have at least 20 per cent more in the tackle, in his running and in his general assertiveness on the field.
Wales captain Ashley Williams said this about his national teammate: “Everyone loves Joe. We have a WhatsApp messaging group and at least once a week we have a Joe Allen Appreciation Day.
“Great beard, great haircut, great guy, he’s the main man in the squad. Class player too.”I’m sure it also comes up regularly that Allen has a significantly better hair game than Gareth Bale.
Fellow Welsh international and former Swansea teammate Neil Taylor added: “He’s got some nicknames at the moment. He’s my roomy with Wales, has been for years. We hammer away at FIFA on the PlayStation, hours a day, putting the world to rights in that room,” (See, it isn’t just Jose Enrique).
“But he is one of our best players, without a doubt. I remember when we played in the Olympics together he was unbelievable on the back of a great season with Swansea.
“He goes under the radar and he keeps the team ticking. He is the cog in the middle of the pitch who people might not see, making a great clearance at one end or the goal at the other.
“But he is the engine of the team. He is a great player, a great lad and very intelligent. He is doing a psychology degree at the moment.
“We all agree that he looks a lot better with the beard and hair – a different guy.”
Interesting. Psychology degree. Grew a beard. Is looking much more sure of himself and his form has improved markedly. I think it’s clear what needs to happen from here – offer Joe a new deal on the condition that his beard remains, then insist that all other first-team players immediately grow facial hair as well. I don’t care what Nivea thinks about it.
Remember the good old days when Liverpool won titles and European Cups with their moustaches? Perhaps this is why we have had to wait so long for success to return. We’ve just needed to wait for face fuzz to come back into fashion. But I digress.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) April 17, 2016
Whatever happens to Allen this summer, the only thing that’s for sure is that nothing is for sure, not just yet.
‘Get rid’ or ‘Keep him’ just don’t quite cover it. Complicated games are being played by agent, player and club. The club and the player need to figure out where they both want to go from here, and it could be one that rumbles on into August.
Whether Allen is capable of maintaining his form, whether Klopp sees a role for him, whether Allen is insistent on more regular games, and whether anyone is willing to offer the money to the club and the player to take him, there is really just one question that hovers over all others.
Won’t somebody please think of the chickens?