Joe Allen | A homecoming a decade in the making
Joe Allen’s homecoming to Swansea City may have been a decade in the making, but it is a move that has always felt destined to happen.
When Allen left the Liberty Stadium – as it was then known – he was just 22 years of age but had six years of senior experience under his belt.
A product of the club’s academy, his talent had long been obvious. He was a natural fit under the likes of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, and it is telling what high esteem Allen continues to be held in by two of Swansea’s finest recent managers.
“Joe was an amazing player for me,” Rodgers has said of his former charge.
“At Swansea he was a young player who’d just broken into the team and he was one of a really strong midfield I had. He was only young but his courage… he was small on the field but big in terms of talent and personality.
“He was a boy who came through the system, bright, well-spoken, a clever guy, very loyal and in my time there he was exceptional.
“I know him well, he is a big talent.”
It was Martinez, meanwhile, who gave Allen his Swansea debut against Blackpool in 2007.
When speaking to SwansTV recently the Catalan had said: “I remember with Joe Allen, that I had a phone call with Brian Flynn and he said he had one of our young lads in the Wales Under-21 squad who could be very, very special.
“Then when we started working with him every day, and we gave him the debut against Blackpool on the last day of the season, it is one of those moments you never forget.”
For Allen, each step along the ladder was handled with considerable aplomb. Senior debut: check. Championship regular: check. Key man in a promotion-winning team: check. Stand-out Premier League performer: check. Full international: check.
He returns to Swansea an even more rounded and accomplished player, and with a World Cup to look forward to this winter.
Four years at Liverpool may not have yielded any trophies, but he proved popular at Anfield, his eye for a pass and tenacious work-rate winning him considerable appreciation.
His qualities were underlined by a simply magnificent series of showings for Wales at Euro 2016. It was no surprise that Allen was named in UEFA’s team of the tournament as Chris Coleman’s side embarked on an unforgettable march to the semi-finals.
His assist for Aaron Ramsey against Russia was special and gets plenty of deserved attention, but his showing in that quarter-final win against Belgium underlined the importance of his understated excellence to that Wales side.
With Wales trailing to a long-range strike from Radja Nainggolan, many in Lille expected star-studded Belgium to go on and extend that advantage and advance to the last four.
Instead, Wales calmly and methodically denied a prodigiously talented side any meaningful possession for the period that followed, with Allen the beating heart of that process.
It stymied a fast Belgian start, and gave Wales the foothold from which they would secure one of – if not their greatest- victory.
“Joe Allen is as good as anyone at receiving the ball from his own centre-backs and breaking the lines with a penetrating pass through the opposition’s midfield, or switching the play. He helped give us a great balance,” then Wales boss Coleman had said when reflecting on that game for the Coaches’ Voice.
Allen has himself revealed a return to SA1 was on the cards that summer, when speaking to former Swansea midfielder Owain Tudur Jones’ ‘The Longman’s Football Podcast’.
Instead, a move to the Potteries with Stoke followed and, while he suffered relegation and then frustration as Stoke strove to get back into the top-flight, it speaks volumes that Allen was handed the captaincy and continued to be held in high regard during a difficult time at the bet365 Stadium.
The end of his contract this summer provided another opportunity for an emotional homecoming, with head coach Russell Martin outlining his desire to bring the player back to Swansea in the aftermath of the final game of last season against QPR.
“He is a brilliant player and a brilliant character,” Martin had said.
“I watched him for Wales recently. He was excellent, the way he spoke to other players as well.
“He loves this club, I love him as a player. I will say it. I would love to [sign him]. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Anticipation has grown ever since, and finally a move that has long been mooted has been completed.
Allen returns to a club that in some ways is very different from the one he left. That much would have been apparent when he reported to Fairwood to complete his medical and the formalities of his move.
The multi-million pound facility did not exist when Allen left in 2012, at the time the Swans first team were still training at the Glamorgan Health & Racquet club near Llandarcy, sharing the public showers with those who had finished gym workouts or a game of squash.
However, there will be some aspects that will be appealingly familiar, and that extends to the style of play under Martin.
Allen flourished under Martinez and Rodgers, and the current Belgium manager recently acknowledged himself that he recognises Martin’s ideas and principles as being firmly in line with ‘the Swansea Way’.
Across a 16-year career he has a pass completion rate of 84 per cent, and makes more than 40 passes a game – a number we can expect to see rise – and he is rarely dispossessed, which offer just the tip of the iceberg of a body of evidence that suggests he will be an ideal fit.
The prospect of Allen dovetailing with the likes of Matt Grimes, Jamie Paterson and Joel Piroe is an exciting one, and Swansea fans will be eagerly-anticipating the sight of their new number seven pulling on that white shirt once more.
It’s been a long time coming, but there’s every reason to believe it will be more than worth the wait.