Adam Lallana cruises with ease through the potential minefield of his childhood Everton allegiances – yes, it’s true – and the only difficult part of the conversation is the question of who his heroes might have been from those dark 1990s days at Goodison Park. “Neville Southall,” he ventures, after quite a lot of thinking about it. But the responsibility resting on his shoulders is more substantial than that.
The player taking the headlines in this remodelled Liverpool side is Mario Balotelli, of course, because it always has to be him, but Lallana is the player on whom Brendan Rodgers has really hung his hat. It was he who Rodgers went in for right at the start of the summer, metaphorically slapping £23m on Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr’s desk – top dollar for a player who embodies the Northern Irishman’s philosophy, the player he believes will take Liverpool to the place that the 2013-14 model did not reach.
It is Lallana who is expected to achieve what his new team-mates could not accomplish, when it all came down to it last season, against Chelsea at Anfield on 27 April. That is a breakthrough against the defensive blocks that a team such as Jose Mourinho’s will put in Liverpool’s way. “You need the risk,” Rodgers said recently, when reflecting on how Lallana would do this. “You need to take the risk.”
The 26-year-old does not convey the impression of being one of life’s big gamblers in this interview, it should be said, never giving too much of himself away. But the frustration Lallana has felt at the delayed start to his Liverpool career is evident. He tweaked knee ligaments in only his fourth training session on the pre-season tour in the United States. The simple act of overextending his leg on the follow-through on a passing drill caused the problem which reduced him to the role of passenger, while others demonstrated their worth.
“I got brought in for one reason, to play football, and obviously I couldn’t do it for six or seven weeks,” Lallana says. “It was difficult being away in America and the lads playing, but me injured. The pre-season is a big stage of the season, when you get your base fitness, you get your rustiness out, get the feel of the games and the match tempo. I never thought it was the cruciate, but it could have been 10-12 weeks.”
The contours of his career have made the Anfield challenge that little bit bigger for him, he admits. Lallana was at Southampton man and boy: debut at 18, captain in the Premier League at 23. Being captain “makes you realise things”, he says. “[But] I have never experienced moving away before and it is like your first day at school. You have to meet new friends. Adjust. Meet new players. These are all challenges I knew I was going to have to face.”
The weight of the jersey is there too. “It is something you cannot quite explain unless you have experienced it yourself. Playing for Southampton or any other different team [is great but] there is that difference.”
Rodgers has no expectations that he will deliver immediately. “I think it will be well before [Christmas that] he’ll be up to speed,” the manager says. “He missed pre-season. Even without that there is going to be a six-month settling in period.” The player says that he is still “edging towards my best. I don’t feel I am there yet.”
It was Lallana’s Spanish-born father, Enrique, who followed Everton “in the Lineker days, when they were doing well”, as his son puts it. Father and son travelled to Merseyside to see two or three games at Goodison and he would look for the result, even when at Southampton. “Everton always seemed to be fighting relegation when I was supporting them,” he says. “I seem to remember there were a lot of tears. I know they’ve not won at Anfield for 15 years…”
Everton will be wary. They know all about Liverpool players with Goodison allegiances – Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman – doing them a whole heap of damage.Reuse content