After a spell of star-gazing Allen gets down to business
When Joe Allen moved to Liverpool, he had to pinch himself that he was playing alongside Steven Gerrard. Now he is feeling right at home in Brendan Rodgers' red revolution
If ever Joe Allen was an ugly duckling, it must have been an awful long time ago. A fully fledged Swan for as long as most can remember, he may now have been transmuted into a Liver bird but retains a simple elegance that has almost certainly been with him since his earliest days. This afternoon there comes a third successive opportunity to demonstrate his quality to a live TV audience after man-of-the-match performances against Manchester City and Hearts, when Liverpool meet Arsenal at his new Anfield home.
"Life is good," he declared after Luis Suarez's late goal denied the Scottish side on Thursday night. And it is good not just on the pitch. Two days earlier Allen had become a father for the first time and if there are sleepless nights, it cannot be anything to do with his football, which has quickly endeared him to the locals after his £15m transfer from Swansea City, the club he joined as a nine year-old. Where Lucas Leiva took a full season and more to settle into his role as a defensive shield in front of the back four, the 22-year-old Allen has taken to his move like a Swan to water.
It has undoubtedly helped that he had already enjoyed the full trust of the manager, Brendan Rodgers, who preceded him in moving from Wales to Merseyside by only a couple of months. Having apparently agreed initially not to take any players with him, it was significant that Allen was the one the new Liverpool manager returned for.
"He's shown me nothing but faith and that's been a massive help since coming here," Allen said. "Obviously knowing his style and how he works is a massive help. When a man shows faith in you like that, the faith to put a young player into a historic club like this one takes a lot of nerve and I've got to be grateful to him for that. In terms of Swansea, they were well rewarded, which I think is important for me. Everyone knows the love affair I've had with that club and I'm glad they got rewarded for it."
Having started young, the west Walian remained something of a prodigy right up until leaving just before the new season began. He was on the bench for an FA Cup tie aged 16, and had both a league appearance and a Welsh Under-21 cap to his name shortly after his 17th birthday. Introduced for a couple of League Cup games by Roberto Martinez early the next season, he walked off with the man-of-the-match award on both occasions, a habit that has continued right up to the present.
Alongside the even smaller Leon Britton, Allen at 5ft 6in became a key figure in Swansea's metronomic passing game while also showing the ability to make a tackle that will be equally important to Rodgers now that Lucas has had his return from injury cut brutally short.
When the Brazilian was forced off against City last Sunday, it was Jonjo Shelvey, two years younger than Allen, who replaced him, as the new Liverpool continued to take shape, with Raheem Sterling doing his tricks down the flank and Steven Gerrard allowed to stay forward in his favoured role just behind the main striker. "I think Joe Allen is brilliant," Shelvey said, "the way he keeps the ball and the tenacity to get the ball back as well. It is outstanding – he is a really good addition to the squad. He is always talking to me through the game, he is a great idol to look up to, him and Stevie."
If Shelvey looks up to that pair, Allen in turn finds himself looking at Gerrard and thinking about how far he has come. "When I look alongside me and Steven Gerrard is standing there, that's something you never would have dreamed of," Allen said. "As a kid and a budding footballer you look up and admire footballers like that. Having been in the Olympics and played alongside Ryan Giggs as well it's been a pretty incredible couple of months."
But he will not allow star-gazing, excuses about the pressure of expectation or even a £15m fee to affect him. "I think no one's going to deny there's pressure on footballers, but it's the career we've chosen and we all live with that. It's important to try not to let that affect you. I said the day I signed here I wouldn't do anything different to what I'd been doing, which is give my all. You've got to remember the reason we're playing this game is because we love it. I'm loving every second here. It's very inspiring."
In farming out Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, reportedly trying to do the same with Jordan Henderson and moving Stewart Downing to left-back, Rodgers showed what he thought of Kenny Dalglish's £78m shopping spree. If a 3-0 defeat in the opening league game at West Bromwich suggested the road back to former glories will continue to be a long one, there were more promising signs against City and Hearts, the latter success bringing with it an extended Europa League run.
Unlike Allen, Shelvey, who was brought in two years ago as a teenager from Charlton, has had to prove himself quickly to a new manager, and appears to have succeeded. An England Under-21 international, he said: "Whenever a new man comes in, you have your doubts if you are going to be in his plans. When he first came, he said that I would be one of the ones he'd look to go out on loan.
"I took that in deep and felt I had to show this gaffer I want to stay here and I thought I did that in pre-season and it's paid off for me. When we got back from the tour in America, he just said to me he wanted me to be a big part of his plans."
In playing style and personnel, the Red revolution continues.
Liverpool v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
Life's goals: Arsène's ambition intact
Arsenal go into a tricky third game of the season today seeking a first goal, but with their manager Arsène Wenger insisting that recent setbacks have not diluted his love of football or the job.
Wenger has once again been forced to sell two senior players this summer and he remains annoyed that clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea appear to be ignoring Financial Fair Play.
But ahead of the game at Liverpool he said of possibly giving up: "It doesn't cross my mind. It is linked with health and love [of the game]. I am like I am. I would pass the love test! In life you are like a guy on a mission – you go as long as you can."
Wenger says he would only consider leaving Arsenal if he thought he was failing.
For now he is keen to improve on goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke at a venue where Arsenal have lost only once in six visits.
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