Barring an unfortunate injury in the next few days, Joe Allen will win his 50th cap for Wales this weekend against Croatia. A great achievement for a player who has been such a reliable option for Wales since 2009.
In the sport of cricket, when a batsman reaches 50 runs. The cricketer raises his cricket bat to his peers on the pavilion to receive their applause as well as getting the accolades of the paying spectators. It is a moment where they are the centre of attention, they are in the limelight, soaking it all in. With Joe Allen knowing what we know, when it is announced the team, and he is indeed winning his 50th cap, he will not seek the limelight. For him, it is another game to prepare for and play for the country he loves, Wales.
But Joe Allen certainly does deserve the accolades and the limelight for the achievement of reaching 50 appearances. Allen is a magnificent footballer for Wales and is a fundamental part of the recent successes and evolution of the Welsh national team. His calming presence on the field, his usage of the football, his ability to control the speed of the play, either if the side is under pressure to slow the tempo down, keep possession for a period. Or if on the attack and the opposition wilting speed up the play with his ability to spot the right pass at the right time. Not to mention the way he conducts himself off the football field — a real Welsh ambassador.
Allen made his debut in 2009 as a late substitute in the game against Estonia for Jack Collison and initially, it took time for him to gain a regular slot in the team. He nurtured within the squad as a player that everyone respected and in 2014, he captained Wales for the first time against Holland, a mark of the respect that the player had within the group.
He has become an indispensable part of the group, and in 2016 the understated player where Welsh fans knew how good he was, the World finally understood how good the player was. The Carmarthen born player starred in that incredible summer of 2016 in the European Championships. Allen starred in midfield so much so that he was named in the team of the tournament by UEFA and justifiably so.
When Allen is not available to play, then his absence is very much felt, and we are not the same side without him. His manipulation of the ball, his calmness when in possession, is a real talent and we do not have that type of player consistently at an international level, who has that skill. There are encouraging signs that Matt Smith and Ethan Ampadu possess similar abilities, but they are still learning their trade at this level at this juncture, while Allen has proved it time and time again.
Allen must be one of the first names on the team sheet. When he had to leave the field against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff in that crucial World Cup qualifier; the game changed instantly that sums up just how good he is.
In a three-man midfield formation which Wales have used a lot, Allen’s ability in a withdrawn role in a double pivot system alongside another player whose strengths are of a defensive manner and ability to win the ball such as a Joe Ledley allows the third player to be released into a more attacking option, which works perfectly for Wales with Aaron Ramsey filling that role.
Every time I watch Allen play in this system, I struggle to understand why he is not playing in the Premier League. Several sides play with that formation and Allen would be an excellent option for many of them. But as I write this, the midfielder will be playing for Stoke City in the Championship for the second consecutive season. I am also surprised, that following the European Championships and no apparent signs of drop off in performances, especially in the international stage that a Spanish, French or Italian side has not snapped him up. In countries where the pace is less hectic and build up play more regimented, then Allen, I believe, would be a star. Seeing he is only 29-years of age, time is still very much on his side, thankfully for Wales.
A massive congratulations to Joe Allen. A player who often goes under the radar in footballing circles but most definitely not by Welsh fans. We know how good he is and the role he plays for Wales. Thank you “Little Joe”, here is to many more caps in your international football career. Diolch yn fawr.
Feature Picture Credit: Walesonline.co.uk