For those who’ve been watching Match of the Day this season, it’s clear that something extraordinary has happened. Alan Shearer, either mindful of his critics or jealous of the universal love for Gary Neville, has finally subscribed to the three golden rules of punditry.He’s doing his research, he’s paying attention and he’s resisting the temptation to simply talk the viewer through the bleeding obvious, before announcing whether or not the striker will be disappointed or happy with that.
It’s very impressive and earnestly delivered with the zeal of a new convert, but it only makes his recent castigation of Liverpool’s Joe Allen all the more disappointing.
Allen, according to Shearer, played too many sideways passes on Saturday and didn’t look up enough. In fact, the Welshman played far more forward passes (54) than he did square (22) or backwards (37), and if that seems an unusually high number of backwards balls, it’s because of the role he has been given by Brendan Rodgers. Allen’s job isn’t simply just to recycle possession or to create chances, he’s also the designated firefighter for two centre-backs still getting to grips with the new style of play. For Daniel Agger, short, swift passing isn’t a huge problem. Martin Skrtel, on the other hand, sometimes looks as comfortable on the ball as a rhino on a tricycle.
Shearer seemed to imply that Allen lacked bravery, but in reality it’s quite the opposite. Scurrying back to provide a quick option for a harassed defender while Lee Cattermole is breathing pease pudding down the back of your neck is like repeatedly rushing back into a burning building while being chased by a pitbull terrier. Allen may be short on stardust, but he’s certainly not short on courage.
The majority of Liverpool supporters already adore Allen and, given that the minority of Liverpool supporters are reactionary loons, quick to anger and slow to learn, that’s essentially a unanimous positive reception. Other supporters raised their eyebrows at the size of his fee, justifiably so given the success of Liverpool’s other expensive signings in recent years, but Allen’s best work goes unnoticed. It’s not that bad a thing to get the ball and slip it to his captain. For all the dents Steven Gerrard has left in advertising hoardings around the country, he finds his target more often than not.
Nor is it a bad thing just to keep the ball moving, buying time, frustrating the opposition. After the classy, but skittish Jordan Henderson and the energetic, but limited Jay Spearing, Liverpool needed a midfielder who could get a grip on the game without freaking out or screwing up.
This is not to say that he is some kind of Welsh Xavi destined to become the greatest midfielder on earth. He wasn’t even the best midfielder at the Stadium of Light on Saturday evening. That honour went to carrot-topped, ruddy-faced farmhand with an unrequited crush on the daughter of the local landlord, Jack Colback.
But Allen is an avatar for Liverpool’s future, a launch-pad for every attacking sortie. He’s mobile, he’s intelligent, he can tackle, he can pass and, most pertinently, he can be relied upon to put the team’s needs above his own. It’s a shame that Shearer, for all of his new-found enthusiasm for intelligent punditry, couldn’t see that.
Click here to read more musings from Iain Macintosh.