Redemption Beckons for Allen

The ghost of Martin Skrtel drove Joe on... - Michael Dodge

Joe Allen was the marquee signing of Brendan Rodgers' first summer at Anfield. Fifteen million pounds had looked to be well invested based on his early showings, but injury and an ensuing crisis of confidence have lessened his impact since.

One need not be a hard-bitten cynic to know that not every story will have a happy ending. There is, however, some quality in the very best of human nature which will not easily accept that reality. It is no accident that some of Hollywood's most evocative movies draw on that determination to surmount the odds. We've all mentally run up those steps with Rocky Balboa, feeling the exhilaration of wild, and possibly baseless, hope. We've crawled through the filth with Andy Dufresne, driven on by the beauty of his impossible Zihuatanejo dream. Each of us wants to believe in the possibility of redemption.

Those who are passionate about football can embrace this concept of renewal and regeneration readily. The sport's history is filled with comeback kids, clubs saved at the death from extinction and victories against the odds. Liverpool fans, in particular, will know the comparatively recent thrill of the hugely unlikely victory when, in 2005, the world was certain that AC Milan would build on their 3-0 half time lead in Istanbul. What followed was one of football's finest examples of defiance, bravery and force-of-will, as Rafael Benitez's charges secured august glory on a balmy May night.

As a body of supporters we still dream of a return to the summit of the domestic game. Many of us, given to romanticism, feel that the long-awaited reestablishment of the club as the premier force in England may be a real possibility over the next few seasons. There is a sense amongst the less jaundiced and cynical fans that Brendan Rodgers may well be building something tangible, sustainable and ultimately successful. Within the boundaries of Liverpool Football Club's Melwood training complex, many individual battles for redemption rage daily.

Amongst those trying to attain their own personal goal of first team football is Joe Allen, an expensive early recruit of the Rodgers era. Allen has caused massive debate between Liverpool fans. Some, naturally skeptical souls, were wary of him from the off. Others, seizing on the generally poor form he's shown after a storming beginning, have since joined the ranks of naysayers. Still others cling desperately to those few assured and graceful early performances and defend the Welshman stoutly.

The truth is, that because of injury and a loss of confidence Allen has been unable to replicate that initial standard which he set, and Brendan Rodgers, essentially a pragmatist with a Steven Gerrard-sized blind spot, appears to have lost some of his faith in the midfielder. The stark reality is that Allen has played a mere thirty four minutes of top-level football since March and in his absence the once-maligned Jordan Henderson has emerged as an undroppable source of energetic brio, vital to the team's proper functioning.

Rodgers seems to favour one of two options in Liverpool's central region. Either Lucas Leiva sits deep alone behind a marauding pair of Gerrard and Henderson or Gerrard drops to sit alongside the Brazilian in an often distressingly deep central defensive tandem. Leiva, for all his mealy-mouthed detractors' complaints, possesses a set of skills that are unique in this Liverpool squad. He is, therefore, virtually an automatic starter in Rodgers' eyes. Gerrard, as discussed ad nauseum, will play all the games and only be rested when a four goal margin has opened up.

Prospects then, currently look a little bleak for Joe Allen. With Philippe Coutinho, Victor Moses and the talented but criminally underused Luis Alberto all capable of playing in the advanced midfield roles and Henderson now a trusted lieutenant, the stylish twenty three year old must wonder where his chance will come from. Allen, to his credit, has chosen to focus on what is possible and cited the example of Martin Skrtel as an inspiration. The powerful Slovakian captain had fallen from grace and looked almost guaranteed to move in the last window. The season began with Skrtel out in the cold but he has since returned to the team and been very impressive.

"Martin is the perfect example for anyone who feels frustrated or impatient when they are not in the side," Allen insisted. "He's done brilliantly and my idea is to do the same. Dealing with not being in the team can be tough, but it's part and parcel of football. There will be occasions when you are out of the side.

"You do feel frustrated that you are not playing as much as you would like. If that's the case, you have to do everything to put yourself forward for selection again. The more you get back out on the pitch, the more things will start to flow properly again. I can't wait to get my chance."

This measured and logical approach to not being a starter is perhaps the standard stuff but it is infinitely preferable to a succession of toys being thrown from the pram. The Welshman's attitude is the kind of thing that manager's revel in. In fact, one can almost hear Brendan Rodgers' voice as one reads Allen's words. Doubtless, the Northern Irishman has had a profound effect on Allen's career to date and it bodes well for the club that this once successful partnership may yet bear fruit at Anfield.

Allen is looking forward, with an understandable relish, to playing for Wales against Finland. The hamstring injury he suffered in the defeat of Notts County earlier in the season has subsequently limited him to only two substitute appearances but the midfielder is straining at the leash again and eager to simply play football. Liverpool's predominantly winning ways to date has seen Rodgers become more cagey than before with his selections. He has learned to love a win above all else. Allen, though, remains hopeful of breaking in by training well.

"You have to do a lot of training and you just need to keep plugging away," he added, in a kind of wonderfully old-school football-speak that somehow suits the man. "There is the option of playing for the U-21s if necessary and there are practice matches too. All that is necessary to get back in shape. Wales also have a match and hopefully I can play a part in that. If I'm selected, it would be good to get some game time. That would be beneficial."

To be fair, it is vital to any squad harbouring pretensions to greatness that there would be a scattering of high quality players vying for the chance to show their class in the first team. Recent seasons have not seen that level of squad depth at Liverpool, when the more limited likes of Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing were regulars in the team's vital engine room.

Nowadays, as Allen looks around him on the bench he can see the likes of Raheem Sterling, Luis Alberto, Martin Kelly and, until the last match, Daniel Agger. Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Touré were also absent from the last line-up. It would seem that there are options for the manager in all areas of the park. He finds himself possessed of that nice headache that managers always purport to crave. Rodgers has been cognisant of the importance of keeping his squad motivated and the need to "give oxygen to some players, so they can see light at the end of the tunnel."

Who knows how Joe Allen's Liverpool story will end? Perhaps he will fade away and move on or perhaps he will seize his chance and flourish in a Brendan Rodgers' side once more. Either way, it is the possibility of success that drives him and us. Endings are not preordained. Hope must exist because the best can always happen. If you ever doubt that, watch again the European Cup final of 2005 and remember what it was to dream and then see that dream become real. Redemption is always possible.

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