ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Swansea City
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Swansea City
Posted by Max Hicks on 08/13/2012

It's a good time to be Joe Allen. The last 12 months have seen the youngster's profile shoot from useful midfielder in an exciting small team to, apparently, £15 million pounds worth of Big Six talent.

There's no denying Swans' fans affection for Allen - he'd been in the organisation since he was nine years old - but at times like these, a strong spoonful of perspective helps the medicine go down. Joe Allen was not, after all, the only player in the Swans' 11th place side last season.

Let's start with the basic facts. Allen ended the season in the top half a dozen or so names in all of European football for passing accuracy. Names like Xavi and Iniesta, the latter of which Brendan Rodgers has directly compared Allen to. Rodgers is trying to re-build the Reds in his own (i.e. the Swans) image, and sees Allen as an important part of his plan. The men are familiar with each other, and it'll save Rodgers the implied hassle of training, say, Jordan Henderson to do the same job. For all the eyebrows I've raised over Henderson (and specifically his fee), surely that wouldn't be too much to ask - after all, what is it that Allen does so well exactly?

The basics. He can pass, sure, but how much of that impressive statistical pedigree is down to the system? Any top-flight player ought to be able to pass accurately over a short distance, and the Swans system last year was so heavily predicated on passing (even, dare I say, needless passing at times), it stands to reason it's players are going to show up in the statistics sooner or later.

Allen is also defensively responsible. Again, this is a demand of the system. Allen and Leon Britton (who actually finished the season with the best passing stats in all of Europe, yet apparently did not warrant an England call up or multi-million pound transfer interest) acted as the deep central midfield duo in Rodgers 4-2-3-1 system, which really took it's shape in the latter half of the season.

With the wingers and central attacking midifielder operating in an advanced position, the deep duo dropped back to supplement the defence, which Allen did well, playing as a box-to-box midfielder next to Britton's anchor man. In other words, he can tackle, and has sound positional skills - or at least the coachable mindset necessary to be taught positional skills. Again, basic stuff.

Allen also possess a decent shot, and has some offensive instincts, as we saw last season with his four goals and occasional late runs to join the attack. So what we're looking at is a player with a solid, basic skill set.

The negatives? Allen has a short fuse, though he managed to keep his head and only pick up the one red last season. He's not a factor in the air, he's still a little bit lacking in stamina and strength and he's not a set-piece specialist, which whilst hardly a pre-requisite for any player, is still a useful extra dimension (and one which ostensible Allen replacement Jonathan de Guzman does have, more of which later).

Don't get me wrong, I am still an Allen fan, and would much rather he'd have stayed than gone. Watching his development was one of the highlights of last season; Allen and Neil Taylor were Swansea's most improved players for me (and the Swans still have Taylor).

But that's exactly the point - Allen was developing last year, and indeed still is. He ended the season strong, and any player associated with that kind of transfer fee and a Big Six club is going to turn heads. But the consensus would have anyone believe that Allen was the Welsh Yaya Toure from the first kick of the ball to the last last season, and that simply isn't true.

He is a valuable player because he generally does all the little things right, and there are many footballers who still don't do that on a consistent basis. However, a top five percent Messi-esque figure he is not, and having a player be capable of competency across the various skill sets his position demands is something any top flight manager ought to expect, not prize at £15 million.

Michael Laudrup's acquisition of Jonathan de Guzman should go some way to filling the hole left by Allen, at least in terms of skill and competency. The real hole is in the hearts and minds of the Swans players, and it is their ability to move on without Allen, accepting new faces in his stead and working up a quick chemistry with those newcomers, which will determine how well Swansea deal with the loss.

Also, let's not forget that due to the Olympics Michael Laudrup never had a chance to work with Allen. Effectively, it's not as though he's losing a player, since he never really had him. The impact on Laudrup's picture, therefore, ought to be less significant than one might imagine.

Ultimately, Allen was just one player from a team of eleven starters who surprised everyone and finished so high last time out. The core is still intact, and I would argue the squad overall is stronger, as Laudrup has introduced a stream of established, solid professionals to cover not just Allen's loss, but that of Stephen Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson, more of which next time.

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Posted by Tom on 08/13/2012

Good post, Max.

Best of luck to Swansea in the coming season.

Thanks, on both counts! M

Posted by Reds bought consistency on 08/13/2012

He does all the little things right.... You said it yourself. I'd say that's worth a lot of money in a position where doing the little things consistently well is the hallmark of success.

Two points about your valuation of allen:

1. Brenden sees this lad in training almost every single day. You only see him in matches. Keep in mind he's only 22.... You could make a solid argument his best stuff is still ahead of him and that the people closest to him have seen glimpses of it in training as well as on the pitch. That's an assumption, as a red's fan, I'm willing to make. I defer to brenden when he says he would've paid even more for the kid.

2. Just because someone isn't going to be the next messi doesn't mean they're not potentially worth 15m. I hope you'd agree there's a wide gulf between 15m and whatever absurd valuation messi might command in the transfer market.

Oh, I agree completely that Allen has a lot of room to develop. I don't think there's any doubt he will justify his transfer fee further down the road. And yes, £15 million probably wouldn't pay for Messi's agent fees.

I do think the acquisition is a solid one for Liverpool. Like I said, I wish Allen had stayed. But I felt it was necessary to take a pragmatic view of the effect of Allen's transfer on the Swans, as some voices on the internet seem to be casting his departure as the tolling bell of Swansea's imminent downfall, and that's just ridiculous. He is a quality player, but the Swans can survive his absence. M

Posted by Reds bought consistency on 08/13/2012

We agree then. ;)

I also agree with you this isn't the end of the world for swansea. I like their style of play an awful lot - they're a fun team to cheer on even if my support lies elsewhere. I hope they stay up and keep building on the success.

Me too! M

Posted by Mike on 08/14/2012

I agree, especially with your comment about doing the simple little things that a lot of players don't do *cough*Joe Cole*cough*. I like him because he can actually dribble, and in the Liverpool team I see a bunch of long ball hollywood passers, (Gerrard, Jonjo, Adam, and Henderson is just trash in general). I think he is there to accelerate the transition, because even in the preseason games the players not doing too much short passing at all

I think you'll certainly be gratified when you see Joe Allen play; he'll work the transition game wonderfully. M

Posted by Marc on 08/14/2012

What you've stated he lacks are all things that can be fixed (aside form height) which is what I - as a Reds fan - like to see. Strength, stamina, calmness can all be worked on, while we don't need him as a set-piece specialist when we've got Gerrard, Suarez, and now Borini.

I like how he's got all of the natural requirements that don't come in your average player:
-Naturally good at positioning
-Instincts in all parts of the field
-Good at tackling
-Able to work the ball around the pitch

I think that he'll be an important figure in the Liverpool midfield and look forward to seeing him develop even more this season. We aren't looking for a Messi-esque figure, we're looking for someone who can control the midfield and do the dirty work day in and day out like Lucas has done for the defensive side of the midfield. A player who can finally fill the hole that Xabi Alonso left when he took his boots to Madrid.

Hopefully he'll be that player. Good post by the way, thanks for it.

No worries, thanks for reading. I think you're right about Allen filling the Xabi Alonso role, though it might take him a little while to get adjusted. M

Posted by Anonymous on 08/14/2012

What is good is good no wonder this Swans fan is gitterly. Good for Liverpool and we welcome the youngman because as a Livers fan i know we never did well last season bcoz we never had depth in the midfield as Stevie G and Lucas L were injured. I cant wait; Let the games begin

Not sure I like the sound of 'gitterly'... You're going to enjoy Joe Allen though for sure. M

Posted by ak on 08/14/2012

leon is 29, while joe is 22, who has reached the plateau and who has room to grow?

Well, yes, Britton doesn't have anywhere near the resale value of Allen nor the time to improve (and is also lacking a touch of athleticism, truth be told). I was simply illustrating how the Swans still have Britton, and that Rodgers probably overpaid for Allen, because he had to - although there's no doubt in my mind he will eventually more than justify his fee. M

Posted by Sam Wanjere on 08/14/2012

Good point Reds bought consistency. BR knows what he sees in this player and I'll also trust him. Insightful post Max.

Thank you, M

Posted by Jayne on 08/14/2012

After reading your post, I must say I feel a lot more optimistic about the coming season, thank you. I think my heart had taken over my brain!!

Always happy to help! M

Posted by Franco on 08/14/2012

I have no doubt Joe Allen will be missed at Swansea. He had such a pivotal and influential role, one which people easily underplay or dismiss, a la Deschamps 'Water carrier' jibe.

Even putting ther new managers influence to one side for a moment, the shape and style of the team will now change as there is no one on the books who can do that job in tandem with Leon. De Guzman is not one for closing down opponents and add Michu who will be playing further up the pitch, then as a consequence the team will maybe only enjoy half as much possession as it did last year.

Thats not to say that Swansea will suffer in his absence but they will have to adapt to a new tune.

Looking at Liverpool, Joe and Lucas will be the new heartbeat in what I imagine will be a similar style to Leon and Joe.

I think you are right about the Allen and Lucas pairing; Lucas seems ideally poised to become Britton Mk II in Rodgers scheme. As for the Swans, I'm sure de Guzman will learn to adapt his game accordingly; he has mostly been used in an attacking capacity throughout his career so far, but Laudrup was keen to point out that he could play deeper. The Swans also have Kemy Agustien, who is good at closing, as a backup. I do expect the Swans to eschew a certain amount of possession in favour of more attacking intent, however, and the players Laudrup has brought in seem to fit in with that agenda. M

Posted by jamesy on 08/14/2012

Personaly i think the Swans will miss Joe ahell of a lot

You might well be right, but needless to say I am hoping they don't, M

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