I struggle to find a bad word to say about Liverpool’s Adam Lallana. He’s a hardworking, intelligent and skilful player who’s dragged himself all the way up from the depths of the Football League to the Premiership’s summit and the England national team.
You can’t doubt his talent or determined spirit, but if there’s one question mark that will perpetually linger over the midfielder throughout his Liverpool career, it’s the audacious transfer fee required to bring him to Anfield last summer – a whopping, eye-watering, ball-busting and shin-shattering £25million.
Even by recent market standards and taking Lallana’s home-grown status into account, that’s a rather almighty sum – in fact, it’s the most Brendan Rodgers has spent on a single player since taking the Anfield helm in summer 2013 and the second-biggest signing in Liverpool’s history, after the infamous Andy Carroll.
To some, the £25million fee will always be somewhat unjustifiable; after all, the former Southampton star is already 26 years of age, and when Liverpool are at full strength, his place in the starting Xi over fellow attacking midfielders Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho is hardly guaranteed. In fact, quite the opposite.
But countryman James Milner sets out an interesting template, one that could eventually justify Lallana’s price-tag should he choose to follow it.
He too once joined a major Premier League club for an astronomical fee – £28.5million to Manchester City in 2010 – and he too faced daunting questions over whether such a price-tag could ever prove good value-for-money. Five years later, the Citizens are throwing further fortunes at their unsung hero in a bid to stop him walking out of the Etihad on a free transfer this summer, with a host of other Premier League clubs queuing up for his signature.
There are further important similarities between the two; both are famed for their fantastic work ethics; both are resultantly underestimated for their astute technical qualities; both are uniquely two-footed considering their English educations; both are highly versatile midfielders; both shun the media limelight and are widely considered to be consummate professionals.
They may seem rather superficial comparisons at first glance, and Milner’s top flight reputation was far better grounded throughout Premier League spells with Leeds, Newcastle and Aston Villa before the free-spending Citizens coughed up his seismic transfer fee four summers ago. Likewise, in 2010, Milner was only 24 years of age and there was resultantly less pressure on him to make an immediate impact.
Yet, Lallana should still find some comfort in them; those characteristics have made Milner one of the most useful and important components of City’s squad, a two-time Premier League winner and a 53-time representative of the England national team. Bucking the trend of most pacey, energetic and youthful wingers, as he was in his younger years, who usually burn out in their mid-twenties, the City stalwart has only improved with experience and age, continually adapting his game to suit Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini’s demands.
That is what Lallana must now do at Liverpool – make himself a mainstay for the next five years by adapting, improving and showing versatility. The Reds squad will always be filled with players more talented than him, but if the 26 year-old can smooth the fringes of his game, he can become Merseyside’s answer to James Milner – a hardworking everyman underpinning the depth of the Anfield squad.
Perhaps it’s not what Liverpool fans immediately expect from a £25million player, but few at Eastlands would dispute Milner as one of the club’s most astute and successful long-term acquisitions. In a few years’ time, should Lallana choose to gravitate towards Milner in both status and style, that big-money move for the former Saints midfielder might prove to be amongst Brendan Rodgers’ shrewdest decisions as Anfield boss.