Sweet memories and Happy Trails, Adam Lallana
Remember, if you will, a personal phase in your life that required endurance, patience and persistence. This time in your life required you to toil long and hard. It required you to keep your poise and raise your energy when the wheels kept spinning. It required you to reset your efforts to meet demands and standards that kept changing.
All this with no guarantee of a golden sky “at the end of the storm”. It could have been your corporate job that you stuck with through multiple managers, just so that you could be fully vested in the company. It could have been that startup business that you joined in their early years, working long hours hoping that your stock options would set you up for retirement later. Each day of the long journey was pointless at best or excruciating at worst.
It was a similar professional hell, and the ultimate deliverance from it, that can best sum up Adam Lallana’s time at Liverpool.
The Rodgers year
Adam must have felt like he came to an empty house after an all-night rager, when Brendan Rodgers brought him to Anfield in 2014. Liverpool had just finished runners-up in a thrilling title race the season before. Luis Suarez ended his roller coaster stay at Anfield with a move to Barcelona, after a World Cup snack of Giorgio Chiellini.
It was a jarring transition from excitement to mediocrity in the space of a summer. Mario Balotelli turned out to be an extremely poor replacement for the spark Suarez had provided in attack. His start to life at Anfield was made further challenging by a knee injury he picked up. You know that adversity lies ahead when you get injured during training on one of those recreational summer tours of North America.
For me personally, I felt the likes of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling were more crucial to Liverpool’s fortunes (or lack of it) that season than Lallana. Many supporters were optimistic for the season as we were back in Champions League and Suarez was the only departure. Boy, were we wrong. Daniel Sturridge, who had formed such a lethal strike partnership with Suarez, continued his enduring love affair with the physio’s table. Rickie Lambert looked like he was a random fan who had won a contest to play in games. Raheem Sterling showed that he was not one to take adversity in stride. Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and the other new arrival from Southampton, Dejan Lovren, were the defensive equivalents of the three stooges.
Dare I say, even the great Steven Gerrard looked like he could not wait to play his last game. Brendan Rodgers looked like the driver of a clown car at the circus.
To expect a mellow, amenable player like Lallana to light a fire in an environment like this might have been too much to ask. To his credit, he showed a lot of class and did not make a bad situation worse with an ill-timed rant to the media or a bitter training ground argument.
The era of Klopp
Everything changed the moment Klopp showed up for his introductory press conference dressed all in black. Rodgers did not last long after a poor start to the season, and Klopp was brought along and hit the ground running. The promise of “Heavy Metal” football rang large in the ears and fantasies of every Liverpool fan. This charismatic German coach who had done so well in the Bundesliga had come in and was now matching the fans’ high expectations with his own high standards.
Inevitably, Klopp’s brand of football and his clear idea of the kind of players he wanted, resulted in a lot of player churn at the club. Only a handful of Rodgers’ holdovers remained, and Adam was one of them.
I will admit that I did not see him going the distance under Klopp because of his struggles with injuries and his excessive reliance on Cruyff turns. Klopp’s penchant for running players ragged in training was as good as a ticket out of the club for players who could not stay healthy.
But Lallana did the little things that keep any person employed at any job. He obeyed the 3 golden rules that keep any professional at a job for a good amount of time – 1. Get to work on time. 2. Do not get on your manager’s nerves. 3. Be a team player.
These were rules that were constantly forgotten by the likes of Balotelli and Mamadou Sakho. From what I have seen, you had to really screw up or be stubborn on the pitch for Klopp to give up on you, as was the case with Christian Benteke. You were either Klopp’s kind of player or you were not, and Adam seemed to work towards being a Klopp player, amid all the challenges.
For me, the everlasting memory of Adam Lallana will always be that injury time game winning goal against Norwich in 2015. The game, the chaos, the goal and then the organic and sheer primal nature of the celebration that came after will always be etched in my memory.
This was a game with a tempo that would have given a high school basketball team the jitters. A ho-hum clash between a mid-table side and a relegation battler got a lot of additional eyes with its lead changes, shambolic defending and frenetic pace.
Klopp was still figuring out how to build this team, and it was littered with misfits to the system like Benteke, journeymen like Steven Caulker and grizzled veterans like Kolo Toure. Lallana was probably one of the few players suited to this kind of shootout because of his competency moving forward.
I will bypass the details of this game, since so many fans remember it and can probably still taste the beers they spilt that day. In short, Lallana scores, runs to the touchline and Jurgen Klopp’s iconic glasses are broken in half in the ensuing mosh pit celebration.
The game meant little more than the 3-points Liverpool gained. But the unbridled happiness in injury time and the cathartic outpouring of emotion from Lallana and his teammates will never forgotten. That was the day Adam Lallana made the transition from being fuel for transfer rumors to being a fit into Klopp’s long-term plans at Liverpool.
There is a lot more than the measurable statistics to being a dependable player at a club. It goes beyond a player’s assists or goals or his marketability. Teams in every sport have a glue guy. A player or two who may not bring much to the table, but do not take away anything from the table either. They keep things light in the changing room. They act as a mentor to the younger players trying to step up. If not these, then at least they are respected for setting good examples silently. They train, dress, speak and carry themselves like professionals, and if a young player is observant enough, he can benefit by just watching a seasoned pro go about his daily routine.
I do not think any of us ever remember anything bad being said or written about Lallana. He never embarrassed the club with any poor decisions off the pitch. He was never involved in a messy transfer saga, or an acrimonious tell-all interview. He put in a decent shift when called up to the England squad as well. Not an easy feat when you consider the drama and scrutiny that come with playing for England.
In fact, he was one in a long line of creative, eye-catching players whose style would be underutilized in the National team set up. Roy Hodgson managed England at the time, and I do not think I need to elaborate on how that went. He was not the first talent to be wasted by England, and he will not be the last.
Graceful sign off
His character as a man and his respect for the club were fully evident when he teared up after receiving his Premier League medal. He has a Champions League medal too, in the off chance any of us need to be reminded of that. Not just football, but he world we live in seems to have a surplus of alpha males who are all obsessed with reaching some imaginary mountain top. The kind of folks who will quote Steve Jobs or Bruce Lee ad nauseum. It is a toxic culture that idolizes the likes of Michael Jordan and his regressive motivational tactics, while ignoring the fact that many of them would not more than a week in the presence of such an obsessive personality.
In such a pervasive culture dominated by such personalities, let us appreciate Adam Lallana for just being a decent bloke. Lallana did not want the spotlight on himself and he was the antidote to any culture that could be deemed toxic. He is a sign that the nice guys do and can come first. He took the opportunities afforded to him. The tying goal he scored at Old to extend our unbeaten run during this season also gives us an enduring memory of his contribution to this great season. The word “Grace” describes not just his beautiful athleticism, but also his conduct on and off the field. He made sure none of his teammates walked alone, and he is proof of that golden sky at the end of a storm.