Back in December I wrote an article on Live4Liverpool assessing Joe Allen and raising my concerns on whether he was providing value for money.
Back then he had a lot more supporters than he has now, not least because his performances have continued to deteriorate with only momentary illusory improvements.
I’m not going to go over the same ground again, so rather than merely criticising him, I want to take a different track.
Let’s assume you’re manager of Liverpool FC and assume you can’t (hypothetically) sell Allen. How do you improve him? Forget whether he may never make the grade or not, if you were his manager, what steps could you take to help him become a better player?
Well, since I can’t actually lay out a day to day training schedule in a short article, here are a few things I would do, over and above training.
1) Stop making excuses and avoiding the issue
Joe Allen has admirably admitted he isn’t playing to his best, but Rodgers is so determined to prove himself correct in buying Allen that he is repeatedly playing him, often in unfavourable tactical set-ups, which is neither helping the team nor Joe.
Highlighting a shoulder complaint (which Allen has played with throughout his Swansea days) seems a thin veil indeed to hide unrelated deficiencies. There is of course little benefit in criticising a player in public who is already struggling for confidence, but Rodgers’ words and actions seem to indicate a worrying state of denial.
2) Take him out of the firing line
I hate to bring up Fergie, but when a new player isn’t performing as well as he should, Fergie takes him out of the first team immediately. That player is then only played under favourable conditions (e.g. against weaker teams or in beneficial tactical set-ups) and Fergie is hence able to assess how the player is developing without negatively affecting results or the player’s confidence. Players as diverse as Evra, Ronaldo and Jonny Evans have also benefited from this approach.
For me, at present, Joe isn’t justifying his place in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. And when we have Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson and Shelvey all fully fit, there is no reason to play Joe when he is so out of sorts.
3) Take it step by step
Joe’s confidence is at an all time low. This is evidenced by the fact that even straight forward 10 yard passes are now going astray, partly because a momentary uncertainty on whether to play a pass or not is affecting the timing and execution of the pass.
Joe has been criticised for not being expansive or progressive enough in his passing. He’s clearly aware of this, to the extent that sometimes he is forcing a pass that either isn’t there, or he isn’t yet able to accomplish. First things first, when Joe plays he needs to just focus on getting a simple passing rhythm going to play himself in. He’s not Xabi Alonso so he can’t play like him. Then, as games progress, look to regain his earlier season form and eventually, his Swansea form.
This unfortunately isn’t achieved during the course of only one game, but a number of games. Since I am advocating he doesn’t play much this season, nor in any important games, I am mostly talking about reintegrating him next season. However, he also needs to understand that if he reaches his Swansea level he still won’t be a success here. He will need to find another gear beyond that to be a success at Anfield.
Joe Allen is never going to be Jonah Lomu, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be putting time into the gym. It would be very surprising if Joe wasn’t already under some regimen, but from a fans perspective there doesn’t seem to have been much improvement in core or leg strength.
Allen is clearly doing his best to compete, but with his timing off it is often leading to unnecessary free kicks as Joe overcompensates. Just because a player is 5’6″ doesn’t mean he can’t be strong – just look at the thighs on Roberto Carlos, Diego Maradona or Sergio Aguero. Hell, maybe he should take up Kung Fu or Karate? Any improvement at all would be welcome.
5) Don’t play him in a two-man midfield
Joe doesn’t presently have the all-round game to function effectively in a two-man midfield, particularly alongside Steven Gerrard. Some players make others better, and Stevie G simply isn’t himself alongside Joe. Joe himself plays better when Lucas is playing.
Similarly in a three-man midfield Joe should not be played as the sole most advanced midfielder (tried and failed against Man Utd). He has deputised in the Lucas role before (though his lack of physicality and height can be an issue) but is best played in this ‘controller’ role Rodgers likes.
Having said that, when Joe has played in this role his performances have still been rather mixed – so if even in his favoured position he is struggling to perform why he is expected to perform out of his favoured position is beyond me.
When Allen began his Liverpool career it was clear he strongly believed in himself. But as criticism has rained in he has looked increasingly sheepish on the field and in front of the camera.
Doubt can be a good thing. Jamie Carragher has said that it is his fear of losing his place, of not being good enough, that drives him to give for every minute in training. Some young players have so much self-belief (e.g. Shelvey or Suso) it has to be curtailed in order to stop it from being detrimental – not so with Joe. There can be a stigma attached to psychologists but personally I hope Allen is utilising the experienced Dr. Steve Peters. Brendan Rodgers’ approach of frequent excessive praise hasn’t worked so far.
7) Fix the injury
Only Allen, Rodgers and his staff know how much the injury has been hampering him. From watching him play over recent months it doesn’t seem to have hampered him significantly; it may inhibit mobility in some sense, but doesn’t account for inaccuracy of passing, being bullied off the ball, lack of passing range and so on.
Given my other suggestions above and that we only have one game a week giving ample recovery time for other midfielders, I would definitely have him have the operation ASAP.
A three month recovery time is a long time, and the best chance Joe has is to be fully fit and determined to improve come the start of pre-season. I see no reason to delay.
I’d like to hear what actions you feel Joe could undertake to improve as a player. I understand many fans want him sold, but assuming (hypothetically) that he stays, what would you do to help him?
You can catch more from me on my own blog: http://taintlessred.blogspot.co.uk/