Wales’ unsung hero Joe Allen earns high praise from team-mates at Euro 2016

England's Raheem Sterling in action with Wales' Joe Allen

Some 48 hours after ‘Joe Allen Appreciation Day’ was trending on Twitter, the Wales players decided to hold one of their own as Gareth Bale and Neil Taylor took it in turns to celebrate the influence of a midfielder who is compared to everyone from Pirlo to Xavi but just wants to be himself. “He’s Joe Allen,” Bale said, when asked if the Liverpool player reminded him of anyone. “And he’s been amazing in this tournament for us.”

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Allen’s latest telling contribution was the majestic pass, threaded through the eye of a needle, that set up Aaron Ramsey for the opening goal against Russia on Monday night. With his arm outstretched seconds earlier, Ramsey pointed to where he wanted the ball delivered and Allen, after a lovely turn in the centre of the pitch, weighted the pass beautifully. Ramsey elegantly did the rest and Wales were on their way to a 3-0 victory that set up a last-16 tie against Northern Ireland in Paris on Saturday.

“I was saying the other day if somebody else from another team had played that pass that Joe did through to Aaron Ramsey, if it was a Spanish player or somebody like that, it would be raved about,” said Neil Taylor, the Wales left-back. “And I know it has been raved about here, with Joe with how well he’s done. But Joey is very underrated.”

Underrated. But not undervalued. At least not in the Wales camp, where Allen is one of the most popular members of the squad on and off the field. Allen plays how he talks – thoughtfully and intelligently – and his performances have been so eye-catching in France that it seems strange to think he has faced such a battle to convince Liverpool supporters, as well as Jürgen Klopp, the club’s manager, that he can play at that level.

Taylor described Allen as the player who “makes the Wales team tick” with his composure and neat passing behind Bale and Ramsey. But the 26-year-old also fulfils another important role for Wales by screening the three-man central defence, and the fact that only France’s N’Golo Kanté has made more interceptions than Allen in this tournament tells its own story.

“I can’t really speak highly enough of him,” Bale said. “I think he does the dirty work that maybe goes unnoticed. But for us, we know how vitally important he is and how amazing he’s played. In the squad we appreciate him very much. Maybe he doesn’t get the headlines outside, but in the squad he gets them. He works his socks off every game and I’m sure he’ll go on to do incredible things in his career.”

But where? Allen has only 12 months left on his contract at Anfield and all the indications are that he will leave this summer after becoming frustrated with his lack of opportunities. He started only eight Premier League games last season and even impressive cameos from the bench in the second half of the campaign were not enough to make him a mandatory pick under Klopp.

“I’m sure Liverpool will probably try and hang on to him but he’s going to have everybody after him if he keeps playing like this,” Taylor said. “Joe is a very good player and I’m glad he’s showcasing it now because he deserves it. It’s on the highest stage and he’s worked very, very hard. He’s a great lad, he’s been my roomie all these years with Wales and he’s somebody who deserves to play at the highest level.”

Swansea City, where Allen started his career, are interested in re‑signing him and Taylor would like nothing more than to see his former team-mate back at the Liberty Stadium next season. “We’d love to have Joey back at Swansea of course. But I think the fact of the matter is a lot of clubs will want him and he’s going to cost a lot more money now, isn’t he, so I don’t know. Where he ends up, or what he decides, is his own decision, none of my business. But we would want any top-class player at Swansea and he’s one of them.”

For the moment Allen’s only focus is on continuing to play well for Wales in his typically understated way. There is a bit of a myth that Allen plays sideways a lot – 58% of his passes in France have been forward, which is high for a deep-lying midfielder – he has created four chances and, of course, there was that wonderful assist for Ramsey in Toulouse. Plus a nice nutmeg on Wayne Rooney in the England game.

Social media tends to enjoy those flashes of brilliance, especially since Allen has grown a beard. Once the Welsh Xavi (the moniker that Brendan Rodgers gave him at Liverpool), Allen has become known as the Welsh Pirlo these days, with others left to decide on how much the nickname is down to the physical resemblance or what he does with his boots.

“The hardest thing for him is that he didn’t give himself those names,” Taylor said. “When people try to compare you to people, that’s the most difficult thing, because you don’t give yourself that tag. I can see why people give it to him, because of the way he plays compared to these players. But Joe is his own man. He’s Joe Allen. And he’s crucial for us.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Stuart James in Dinard, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd June 2016 22.29 Europe/London

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