"Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving."
Iago -- OTHELLO, William Shakespeare
Amidst the fickle bands of humanity that gather under one flag, one will invariably find such a stunning heterogeneity of opinion as to make one wonder how such disparate views are possible within the confines of a group purporting to be unified in a common cause. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than amongst football supporters.
Two brothers will stand on the Kop, and sing lustily together in support of their team, before one mercilessly harangues a player for ninety minutes, whilst the other lauds his every touch. Two lovers, fresh from the warmth of a shared embrace will take their seats at Anfield on a match day, only for him to quietly mumble his support of a beleaguered Redman whilst she loudly berates that same player's lack of moral courage.
Our nominal couples are fairly indicative of the extreme reactions Joe Allen has elicited from Liverpool fans since his arrival from Swansea for a £15m fee in the summer of 2012. Some, as offended by the fee paid as if it had been drawn from their own pockets, were ill-disposed towards the stylish midfielder from the off. His early poise and control tempered their disdain somewhat but it returned with venom as soon as the diminutive Welshman's form waned.
Those who bought into Allen as what Brendan Rodgers likes to call "an outstanding technician," were slow to allow their perception of him to become tainted by a patently obvious fall-off in his form, confidence and efficacy. In that most admirable of ways, they stood by their man, denying the reality of what their eyes presented to them. It has since emerged that the player was suffering the effects of injury for much of last season and this certainly helps to explain the decline in his performances in red.
When Allen lined out against Norwich last Wednesday, it was his first Anfield start in almost a year. That stark fact speaks to the difficulties the player has faced over that period, and whilst that performance was unspectacular and understandably tentative, Allen grew into the game. Four days later, against West Ham, we saw a far more assured display, with the player managing over 90% successful passes whilst forming partnerships with Steven Gerrard and later, after the captain's injury, Lucas Leiva.
As ever, the vast array of delightfully accurate statistics do not paint the full picture. Against West Ham, we saw an intelligent footballer doing the simple things well. This, in itself, is almost the definition of an effective midfielder. More to the point, there was a tangible confidence in Allen's performance that manifested itself not only in the twenty three accurate final-third passes he completed but also in the success he had in his individual challenges and the honesty he showed in constantly seeking the ball.
Like another of Liverpool's young internationals, Jordan Henderson, Allen has shown some mental fortitude and no little courage in his efforts to rehabilitate his reputation amongst the Anfield faithful. It cannot be pleasant to endure the massed groans and strangled cries of opprobrium that seemed to haunt his every mistake this last year. I've had a gentle word in the ear of some 'fans' on the Kop whose bile-laden abuse of both Allen and Henderson has left me more irritated than any on-field blunder by either player. Express your displeasure, by all means -- I'll join you -- but there is no benefit to be gleaned from bitter invective and personalised disparagement.
Of course, being responsible for one of the most glaring misses in this or any other season, during a frenzied Merseyside derby, with the game there to be won, will not help Allen to smooth any transition into the good graces of his detractors. The remarkable gaffe was almost the perfect moment to sum-up the player's stalled Anfield career and poignantly reflected his battered confidence. To his great credit, Allen has added that to the list of things he's overcome to begin again to resemble the player who Rodgers saw as his prime target in his first transfer window as Liverpool boss.
"Everyone knows the disappointment and there's been a lot of talk about the miss," Allen confessed to the official website. "It was disappointing, but that's football and these things happen. I moved on straight away and got back to working hard, looking for the next opportunity to come. Obviously, I had the chance to start against Norwich, which was the first start I've had at Anfield in the league in almost a year. So it was great to be back out there and be part of a winning performance.
"I've struggled with different injury problems but you'd hope that they're behind me now and I can focus on getting out there and playing more and more. The manager has just told me to be ready for when my opportunity comes and to get back to my best. That will come with game time. Nothing has changed really. But everything comes together with playing time, so I'm looking to getting a string of games and showing what I can do."
This phlegmatic attitude is pleasingly old-fashioned and displays a humility and determination that bodes well for Allen's Liverpool future. As to that future, the Welshman is optimistic and appreciative of his team-mates efforts. There is, he claims a new resilience and steel about the Anfield outfit and, after the fifteen game mark, Liverpool sit on 30 points, 11 better than at this stage last season.
"I think we've learned lessons from last season," said Allen. "We performed well, but we were pretty inconsistent at times. This year we seem to be more consistent and I think the points tally reflects that. Plus, there's been additions to the squad that have strengthened and that always helps. I think the momentum we've gained at the start of the season, hopefully we can really take that forward throughout the whole year.
"It's natural that the better you are doing, the atmosphere is one that's much more positive. You enjoy being involved in things a lot more. You can definitely sense that. It's a good feeling and you take that from Melwood into the game situations. I think every now and again, you have a minor setback. But we're getting much more consistent and ruthless with our performances. We're clinical. We're putting teams away quite comfortably at times, which is a great thing to have."
Joe Allen, functioning at his optimum level, is a tremendous addition to the Liverpool squad and may well become a guaranteed starter. He is the kind of polished and technically adept footballer that Brendan Rodgers always professes to like. If he can add steel, doggedness and ferocity to his obvious skills, we may see yet another Anfield career renaissance.