Allan: I Want To Make Goodison History

In an interview originally published in Everton's matchday programme for Sunday's meeting with Tottenham Hotspur, Allan talks about being a Premier League chart topper… the personal and collective need for improvement… a redefined role under Rafa Benitez…. the English adventure that keeps getting better…  football’s first male openly gay top-flight player… and a ‘joyful’ family reunion.

It is quite ironic that in the country where Allan spent eight years forging a reputation as one of his continent’s most dynamic midfielders, they call the position he currently fills for Everton Il Mediano. The median.

There is nothing middling about Allan’s numbers. Not that he’s concerned about totting-up individual merit points, mind.

Allan smiles politely as he’s given a refresher on some of his standout statistics.

The selfless Brazilian has pressed the ball 269 times this season. None of his Premier League counterparts come close. James McArthur of Crystal Palace is next best on 226.

McArthur is Allan’s closest challenger for successful presses – defined as the team gaining possession within five seconds of the player applying pressure – but it’s a lopsided fight; Allan recording 87 to the Scot’s 69.

The chatter around Allan when he came to Everton was of a prodigious ball-winner and the data supports that assertion, too. Only one top-flight midfielder, Brentford’s Christian Norgaard, has attempted as many tackles as the Everton player’s 32. Allan and Norgaard have won a joint-high 26 tackles.

The protagonist’s response to all this is unequivocal.

Allan would trade his industry-leading numbers for the greater good in a heartbeat – albeit the two things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

One of Everton’s most accomplished performances of this embryonic campaign came in the 2-0 victory at Brighton & Hove Albion, where Allan provided the assist for his side’s opening goal, supplied more key passes than anyone else on the field and was the game’s most prolific tackler.

“To be honest, I don’t really follow these things or track my own statistics,” says Allan.

“I prefer to be informed about my performances on the pitch by the manager, so I can understand what is working well for the team and where I must be better.

“Then I can focus on constantly improving during the week, with the aim of helping out even more.

“Every week we have the opportunity to have a great game and every week we should learn something new. I am always looking to learn, so I can contribute more to the team on the pitch.”

In common with a number of his Everton teammates, Allan is following new instructions after the appointment of Rafa Benitez as manager prior to this season.

Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison have explained their redesigned briefs in these pages and now it is the turn of the 30-year-old, who joined the Club last year after five seasons with Napoli.

In his first Everton campaign, Allan was often deployed as what he calls – borrowing again from the Italian lingo – a Mezzala, the term for those mobile central midfielders without an off-switch who play wide and advanced of a single deep-lying midfielder.

Contrary to some perceptions, however, the player’s incessant hounding and smothering of opponents this season is nothing new – Allan pressed the ball 29.5 times per 90 minutes last season, against a comparable figure this term of 27.45.

No, it is the starting point for his closing down that has changed.

Allan has made 56 per cent of his tackles this season in the defensive third of the field, four per cent more than last term.

“I think this pressing has always been a characteristic of my game, certainly since I was at Napoli where I had more attacking freedom,” says Allan.

“I would pressure the defenders across the forward line and now I do it a bit deeper. Rafa asks me to provide cover for the defence, so I don’t often get close to the opposition box.  

“It [pressing from a deeper position] is something I’ve learned: always having the ball covered so our centre-backs can hold a higher line for greater coverage.

“This is so important for keeping the team compact. I try to pass on this style to my teammates. It’s not easy but we’ve been doing a lot of work in training to coordinate our movements, as this will benefit the team enormously.”

Allan transferred to Napoli in summer 2015 following three seasons with Italian top-division rivals Udinese, the club which trusted its gut – a reliable gauge after pilfering the South American market for Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado – to shell out close to £1m for the stocky 21-year-old midfield henchman with a silky touch from Vasco da Gama.

Udinese added a dash of derring-do, Napoli then buying an off-the-shelf midfield all-rounder, increasingly comfortable conducting the rhythm and direction of matches, who was integral to three Serie A runners-up finishes.

“At Napoli, our formation was 4-3-3 and I played as a Mezzala, on the side of a midfield three, which gives you more freedom to perform the box-to-box role,” says Allan.

“You have more chances to shoot and can arrive more regularly in the opposition box, which gives you more opportunities to provide assists.

“But I am learning new things with Rafa Benitez, without a doubt. Every manager has a distinct way of working, Rafa has his and he’s already added a lot to my career.

“You learn until the day you stop playing and the manager has helped me have a different view of some parts of the game.

“I always aim to adapt to the manager’s instructions and I want to do my best for Rafael Benitez and help the team.

“Whenever I get on the pitch, I will always give my maximum. There are some games where we do better than others but the willingness and desire, giving 100 per cent, will never change.

I am learning new things with Rafa Benitez, without a doubt. Every manager has a distinct way of working, Rafa has his and he’s already added a lot to my career.

“It isn’t only me learning a lot from Rafa, it is the entire group, and our intention is for this season to be much better than the last one.

“There are some details we need to correct, which is normal when a new manager is implementing his ideas. We started really well… now we need to work hard and follow Rafa’s directions to get over this spell we are having. I believe everything is in place to improve on last season.”

The additions this summer of Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray enriched Everton’s counter-attacking options.

Benitez’s side sliced through Southampton and Burnley and Brighton to win those games and broke like the wind – after Allan’s pass out of defence – to score the thrilling goal that earned a point at Manchester United.

But, relates Allan, this isn’t an Everton side anchoring itself to a single way of playing. Allan occupied his old Mezzala position for the second 45 minutes at Wolverhampton Wanderers last week, after Benitez introduced Fabian Delph to reinforce midfield as part of an effort to rescue something from the game.

“Each game and situation have distinct plans,” Allan emphasises.

“It is something we put together depending on the opposition.

“We know we have high-quality players to play on the counter-attack.

“But we can improve in a number of areas, we want to be a complete team and not solely rely on counter-attacking.

“There is a lot of talent in the squad and players with experience, so we are capable of playing in different ways, which is very important in such a competitive league.”

Allan is talking following a week that history will conceivably record as seminal for the football community.

The Adelaide United defender Josh Cavallo publicly revealed he was gay, the first instance of a male top-division player from any of the world’s professional leagues coming out while an active footballer.

Allan’s take on this hugely significant development can be divided into two strands that ultimately interlink.

The South American – whose club’s All Together Now campaign was launched in 2018 to celebrate and promote equality and diversity “through the positive power of football” – hopes Cavallo’s honesty sends a categorical message about a sport that is open and inclusive.

But we will know we’ve made real progress, says Allan, when a footballer’s sexuality is an irrelevance. By extension, the Everton player reasons, Cavallo, from here, should be judged only on performances for his A-League club.

"He was very brave and his honesty is very important,” says Allan.

“Football has to have its doors open to everybody who dreams of being a professional player.

“I hope now that people talk about Josh for what he does on the pitch and not his life off the pitch.

“We all need to respect every player and every individual, regardless of their sexuality, or anything else. Everybody deserves complete respect.

“Hopefully, we’ll talk about this player in terms of his football and what he does on the pitch, rather than his sexual orientation.

Off the pitch, everybody should pursue happiness and be who they want, without any issues – hopefully, people will respect Josh’s sexual orientation and he will be happy and successful.

“Thankfully, the majority of people today are more open-minded and I hope – and think – he’ll be accepted in football without any prejudice. But, to reiterate, I hope we can talk about what the player does on the pitch rather than his life off it.

“Off the pitch, everybody should pursue happiness and be who they want, without any issues – hopefully, people will respect Josh’s sexual orientation and he will be happy and successful.”

An injury midway through Allan’s debut Everton season essentially kiboshed the player’s hopes of selection for Brazil’s summer Copa America campaign.

The silver lining in that cloud shimmered in the shape of a long-awaited trip home.

Prior to this summer, Allan last visited his mum Rosana and seven siblings in summer 2019 – a stay condensed by the player’s participation in that year’s triumphant Copa America tournament.

“It was wonderful to see my mum and brothers and sisters and friends again,” says Allan. “It was a joyful time.

“It went by very quickly, it was less than a month before I needed to be back. They were precious moments with the people I love.”

Allan barely had time to catch his breath between seasons last year.

The COVID-delayed Italian campaign spilled into August and the player completed his transfer to Everton the following month.

Allan was coming onto his A-game when that injury – a hamstring problem sustained at Leicester City nine days before Christmas – resulted in 11 games on the sidelines.

He is aiming to “maintain a high level across the entire season” for Benitez after participating in this year’s preparations from start to finish – Allan’s first complete pre-season since 2018.

“English football is very difficult and every weekend you come up against great players in quality teams,” says Allan.

“You can never be sure about the result.

“You have to be 100 per cent both physically and mentally. It’s a very demanding season and you have to look after your body and your diet to make sure you are in peak condition for every game.

“The football in England is faster and the intensity greater than in Italy.

“There is no game you can take for granted, even when you reach the 94th and 95th minutes. It can still turn because teams don’t stop.

“If you lose focus for one second, it can undo 95 minutes of good work.”

Allan’s early performances for Everton belied the head-spinning circumstances of his arrival.

Everton is a great football club. I want to be here for a long time and make my name as part of a team that brings success for the supporters and the people who work for the Club.

He had a terrific debut at Tottenham Hotspur eight days after signing and started all but one Premier League game until that muscle injury.

“I’ve always loved watching football and always followed the English game and I think that helped me adjust,” says Allan, whose first Everton campaign was played almost exclusively in empty stadiums.

“All the help I received from my teammates and everyone who works here at Everton, everyone who made me so welcome, has been great for me and my family.

“I was excited about a new adventure – for my wife and children, as well as me – but it has been an even better experience than I expected.

“And it keeps getting better. It is wonderful to play at a full Goodison Park, our fans are incredible, you feel their passion and it makes you want to give everything for them.

“We can also see more of the city and the area where we live and this adds to the fantastic experience.

“Everton is a great football club. I want to be here for a long time and make my name as part of a team that brings success for the supporters and the people who work for the Club.”

With his non-stop scuttling it follows that Allan is among the Premier League’s marathon men.

He’s covered 105.6km this term – 10.78km per 90 minutes – a distance surpassed by only seven players.

Allan concedes, then, that it’s been a personally sound start to 2021/22 because “I have been available and ready to help my teammates in every game”.

But he felt lousy after the reverse against Wolves that followed back-to-back defeats at Goodison, where Allan insists expectations are elevated with Evertonians back and packing the ground.

“We had a really good start but we expected six points from our past two home games,” says Allan.

“Our mindset during games can, and will, improve. When we are ahead, like against Watford [5-2 defeat after leading 2-1], we must recognise where the opposition will challenge us to try to come back into the game.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be caught by surprise. It is crucial to think positively and completely believe in our work and our plan.

“I believe we can fight as equals with any Premier League side. We have shown it is possible – but not consistently.

"The next step is to build on our experiences together, so our performances reach a consistently high level.

“We should never get carried away if we win a game, only focus on winning the next one.

“In moments such as the one we are living now, our heads can’t go down. We have to focus on winning the next game, then things can quickly change.

“Every player must be highly-prepared, mentally and physically, to help the team achieve what we want.”

Allan is reluctant to speculate over what the Premier League table might look six months from now.

I believe we can fight as equals with any Premier League side. We have shown it is possible – but not consistently. The next step is to build on our experiences together, so our performances reach a consistently high level.

He concedes nonetheless that emptying out a treatment room containing, among others, prize striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Doucoure, Allan’s irresistible fellow midfielder – “He plays the box-to-box role with the greatest of ease, offensively and defensively, and is a great loss for the team” – would enable a cheerier outlook.

“The top-six is everybody’s dream but it is very difficult to talk about that right now,” says Allan.

“There is a long way to go and it is a mistake to look beyond the next game. When our injured players are back it will give us another push.

“There is the potential in this squad, and with this manager who has had a spectacular career and knows how to build winning teams, to compete for the highest positions in the league.”

He might be Il Median on the pitch these days. But nothing about Allan’s ambition for Everton is middle of the road.