SCROLLING through Twitter last week, I couldn’t help a wry smile at a Paul Joyce tweet, writes DAVID TULLY.
Adam Lallana set for new Liverpool contract
— paul joyce (@_pauljoyce) February 8, 2017
In the recent past, reading that might have meant the end of days for many in our support, and I include myself in that. In fact, it was about this point last season when I took part in an opinion poll for a well-known Liverpool forum. The question was pretty straightforward; “Who is your most disliked current Liverpool player?” The poll was typically knee-jerk. A crass reaction to another humbling by a team that the Reds really should have been swatting aside. However, online forums rarely make a whole lot of logical sense at the best of times. Particularly when anonymity is custom.
My pick for my disliked player required little thought; Adam Lallana. Lallana was a player that had greatly frustrated me ever since his arrival from Southampton in 2014. It wasn’t related to a lack of talent for it was immediately clear he had incredible technique and balance. Here was an attack-minded player that was genuinely two-footed, and could switch direction effortlessly. But it soon became clear that Lallana had a big problem; numbers. Lallana wasn’t contributing anything in the final third in terms of assists or goals. Especially goals.
In the traumatic bye-Luis Suarez, hello-Mario Balotelli era, it became painfully clear that there wasn’t anybody that could shoulder the responsibility for scoring goals for Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge was injured for the majority of Lallana’s debut season, and Suarez’s replacements proved woefully inadequate in repeating anything close to his numbers.
Lallana scored 10 goals for Southampton in the season before he signed for Liverpool. This was a decent number for a side finishing in eighth place. His performances had caught the eye all season. He had broken into the England squad. Still, eyebrows were raised at the £25 million price tag. And his age. At 26, he was older than most supporters realised. He’d played for the Saints back when they were in League One, and was a late developer as far as being a top level player goes.
We’d been here before in the recent past. The same situation with a different player, and some of us were still having Charlie Adam-sized nightmares as a result. As the costliest price tag in a £107m spending spree, and with the club about to re-enter the Champions League after a six-year absence, Lallana was served up as the main signing in a summer period where fans were calling for an established, proven quality, Marco Reus-level signing to the degree that even John Henry joked about it in a very rare tweet:
Oh and sign Reus!
— John W. Henry (@John_W_Henry) September 17, 2014
Lallana was injured early on in his Liverpool career, and didn’t get onto the pitch until the fourth game of the season as the Reds slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Aston Villa. It’s fair to say, that a lovely solo goal a few weeks later against West Brom aside, Lallana had a pretty inauspicious beginning to his Liverpool career. It didn’t help that the team and manager were floundering. The near title-winning side from the previous season had become disjointed and fallen way off the pace.
As a supporter, it was difficult to understand what Lallana was bringing to the team at this point. He didn’t have any pace, so he couldn’t break through the lines, and he had an incredibly annoying habit of hanging onto the ball too long, allowing defences to re-position themselves and nullify the Reds’ attacking threat. It was like the talented kid in the playground that had all the skills, but would rather win his own personal duel by performing multiple Cruyff turns and drag backs, before laying it off and allowing others to do the things that wins games.
When you consider that, as one of the three forwards in a Liverpool side that didn’t carry much of a goal threat from midfield or defence, it’s pretty imperative that you do the things that forwards are supposed to do; score and create. It quickly became apparent that the West Brom goal was an exception to the norm. And as the Reds toiled, Lallana was looking the very definition of a luxury player. A player more suited to a supporting, rather than a leading, role. In other teams where three or four others could be regularly relied upon to supply the numbers, this might work, but the side didn’t have that. And so, as the summer’s marquee signing, the pressure grew to deliver the goods.
In his favour, he always worked hard. He was always near the top of the Opta stats for distance covered over 90 minutes. The one thing that might excuse a poor performance with a Liverpool crowd is effort, and Adam couldn’t be faulted in that. The desire was there, but the application was way off. His first season, with the odd exception, was nothing to write home about. Lallana finished the season with a pitiful six goals from 41 appearances.
Klopp’s appointment as manager saw Lallana’s contribution change drastically. All of a sudden the work rate we had taken for granted had become crucial to the gegenpressing system — he started to look at home. Even his goal contribution had appeared to take a slight turn. and Klopp showed his appreciation for this.
Going into summer 2016, it was patently obvious that the team lacked a forward with genuine speed. There wasn’t a chance that Philippe Coutinho would lose his place, and Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, and Divock Origi had all made genuine claims to lead the line the following season. Mario Gotze flirted with us but eventually it was Sadio Mane who was prised away from Southampton for £34m and it seemed Lallana’s next move would be dropping down to the bench.
How wrong we all were. Fast forward nine months, and news of Lallana’s new contract is well-received and well deserved. His reemergence as an energetic link-man between midfield and attack has been one of the major successes of the early days of the Klopp era. Few would have believed it possible that Lallana would show seven goals and seven assists by Christmas, but Klopp recognized a unique set of attributes and his redeployment has surprised everyone, bar those at Melwood no doubt. The manager and Lallana himself deserve all the credit in the world for turning his career around.
For some the 150,000 weekly wage is a muttering of complaint, but when you take into account the inflation in wages, even since 2014, it’s a good deal for the club. And it’s richly deserved for Lallana too. The club have tied him down for his best years, and in doing so have fended off reported interest from the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. It’s testament to Lallana’s performances that a supporter can read of their interest, and not be surprised in the slightest.
So, the next time there’s an opinion poll as to the most disliked Liverpool player, I’ll probably refrain from naming my pick as there’s a good chance that player might ram those words back down my throat, and make me look as stupid as Lallana has.
Alberto Moreno, I take it all back.