Joe Allen was having a short holiday in Ibiza last month, reflecting on Wales’ remarkable Euro 2016 journey, when he discovered Liverpool were selling him to Stoke.
After four years at Anfield he left as a cult hero with supporters, a hugely popular figure in the dressing room with his reputation enhanced after playing a key role in helping Wales to reach the semi-finals.
He is now focusing on a new chapter in the Potteries and hopeful of making his home debut against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Saturday, after sealing a £13 million move. But sitting at Stoke’s training ground on Thursday after agreeing to a rare interview, he admits the way it ended at Liverpool left a sour taste.
Allen is low maintenance, reluctant to make headlines and chooses his words carefully, yet clearly feels his departure could have been better handled.
“I actually had a text message off a friend congratulating me about making the move when I didn’t even know it was happening at the time,” he says. “Not knowing whether the club intend to sell you or keep you, especially when you’re trying to ask the question, is disappointing.
“If I’m honest, to find out they accepted an offer through the press isn’t the best way of going about business, I don’t think. The communication wasn’t great but as soon as Liverpool accepted an offer I knew what their intentions were for me. It was a bit strange but that’s how things happen sometimes. There was no real goodbye, but I’m not the most sentimental person anyway. It’s irrelevant now because sitting here I’ve got the move I wanted.”
Allen bears no grudges and, indeed, says he has many fond memories of his time at Liverpool. He was infamously branded “the Welsh Xavi” by Brendan Rodgers shortly after moving from Swansea in 2012 and it is easy to forget the role he later played when Liverpool chased Manchester City for the title.
When Rodgers was sacked in October last season, he had to start again under Jürgen Klopp but proved himself to earn the respect of Liverpool fans. His sale polarised opinion among those supporters, with many claiming Liverpool should have offered him a new contract. But the lack of game time – just eight Premier League starts last season – made it an easy decision.
“Being a regular wasn’t going to happen and that’s fair enough. If you look at the quality Liverpool have got in midfield, and maybe the age of the players, I think I’d have been waiting for injuries and suspensions. Realistically, if you’ve been there four years you expect more than that.
“I’m not going to be happy unless I’m on the pitch on a regular basis. I’m 26 now and the next four or five years are going to be my best. I’m really excited about this move because the ambition is there to get better. In the three seasons Mark Hughes has had you’ve seen the progress Stoke have made, the players he’s brought in and the style he has imposed. We’ve finished ninth three seasons running and the aim now is to look at those places above.”
Stoke’s capture of Allen is even more impressive when you consider his performances at the European Championship. The heartbeat of the Wales midfield, he produced his best display in the stunning victory over Belgium and was deservedly named in the Team of the Tournament.
Those ‘Welsh Pirlo’ comparisons with the Italian maestro did not seem so far-fetched. The fairy tale ended against eventual winners Portugal in the semi-final but Allen admits it was a life-changing event.
“As a Welshman I’d always dreamed of reaching a major tournament and wondered if it would ever happen but reaching the semi-finals is unforgettable. We were riding the crest of a wave, getting better and better, but Portugal was just one step too far. It maybe caught up with us.”
All the attention garnered from Euro 2016 was a new experience for Allen, who readily admits he is an Average Joe. He is private and humble, though Liverpool players will tell you he was one of the most outgoing members of the squad. It was once revealed that he keeps chickens with his wife Lacey, but other details about the Welshman are scarce. So who is the real Joe Allen?
“I’m a family guy who likes to fly under the radar. That’s why I don’t like talking about chickens! I’ve never really been comfortable in the spotlight. I’ve still got a family home in Swansea and get back when I can. People who know me probably get to see the real me.
“I’ve been asked about Twitter before and people say I should make more of an effort to get on there. At a club like Liverpool which has global support, people do want more access into you and your life, but I’m a bit more old school.”
It is no wonder, then, that he looked so uncomfortable on the Being: Liverpool documentary.
“That was one of the things that scarred me!” he says, laughing. “I remember walking through the door and there was a camera crew there. That’s an example of where I’m out of my comfort zone and I’m not a big fan of that side of things.
“I’m a footballer and my job is out there on the pitch. I’ve always been a team player and seen my role as helping the team function better. I think I’ve got attributes that can help Stoke.
“Everyone is keeping an eye on Guardiola but we’re hoping to make it very difficult for him and his team on Saturday.”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/08/18/joe-allen-i-found-out-from-friends-text-i-was-leaving-liverpool/