Maybe it’s the beard.
It’s got to be the beard, hasn’t it? I mean, it’s a beard. There wasn’t a beard there before, and now there is one. Joe Allen has grown a beard and suddenly he’s everywhere. On scoresheets, in tabloid rumours linking him with a return to Swansea, in hilarious goal alerts on smartphone apps. That was definitely the beard, that one.
In the past week, Allen scored late against Arsenal and early against Exeter City to differing levels of Liverpool celebration. The Arsenal one was elation at getting something from a game the Reds would never have deserved to lose, whilst the Exeter one was relief that an evening of struggle against a determined League Two team was set to be avoided. Anfield has already seen one of those this season.
That was back in late September, when Carlisle United held a Liverpool side which was a lot stronger than Wednesday night’s team (on the fabled paper at least) to a 1-1 League Cup draw, before Adam Bogdan saved three penalties on his debut to win the shootout. So at least there’s that, eh Adam?
It was a wretched night for the Reds, as Brendan Rodgers watched on seemingly clueless as to how to turn things around in a managerial reign which had already gone on for too long. He was sacked 11 days later.
And there was Allen in that Rodgers XI. The manager’s man in the centre of the park getting, giving, cajoling and hustling before being replaced by Philippe Coutinho as the weary Rodgers realised that extra-time loomed.
Off goes little Joe, just another example of Rodgers getting it wrong in the transfer market. The Welsh Xavi, or was it The Welsh Iniesta (Yniesta?). One of those anyway. Laughable. Not good enough. Rodgers out. Allen out too, presumably.
Okay, so it wasn’t that blatant, but there is little doubt that if you were to ask Liverpool supporters about which player they most associated with their now beleaguered manager then it would have been a 25-year-old in his sixth consecutive season under his stewardship. Allen had become the symbol of how the ‘Swansea Project’ that Rodgers had sought to bring to Liverpool hadn’t quite worked out, and there was a resentment towards that.
And none of it was his fault.
In 2012, Allen had been brought in by a manager who knew him well and knew how he operated, and the unfortunate thing for him was that it wasn’t just the fans who were seeing him as the symbol of that manager’s ideas, it was the manager himself too.
A lot of Rodgers’ cocksureness is simply there to mask insecurities, and in Allen he could see a safety blanket. When he played well it meant that Rodgers was a good manager, and the Northern Irishman was probably telling himself that in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘Keep going, Joe’s doing alright, it’ll be okay. Okay?’
With Rodgers gone, Allen has been placed in the role of a placeholder.
Many see him as just being at Liverpool until Jurgen Klopp can snap up a German-educated, three-lunged midfielder from the Bundesliga in the summer. Gegenpressing isn’t a word heard often in Pembrokeshire, after all.
And that might still be the case. Allen has 18 months left on his current Liverpool deal and has recently spoken about the silence he’s being met with when it comes to discussing a new one. Something will have to give in the summer, either way.
But as he’s recently shown whilst quietly turning in some very impressive performances, he no longer deserves the reputation as merely Rodgers’ head boy.
The goals against Arsenal and Exeter showcased a desire to get into the box and get on the end of things, something that Klopp will have noted given that his side have struggled to find the net all season.
The fact that the German took Allen off after just over an hour of the Exeter game was hopefully an indication that he has him in mind to start against Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday, as he’d deserve the chance to and has certainly shown more than the likes of Lucas Leiva and James Milner recently.
In a year in which he’s to play in the European Championships for Wales, Allen seems to be enjoying his football under a new manager whenever he plays, and there is a freedom to his game which he didn’t enjoy under Rodgers. It’s a bit like he’s having a party whilst his parents are out for the night or he’s, quite literally, letting his hair down.
His long-term future remains unresolved, but he’s proving himself to be a valuable member of Klopp’s squad right now.
And the beard looks pretty good, too, if you ask me.
Read more from Mark Jones