Joe Allen embraces 'terrible' Euros second chance with Wales after injury

Joe Allen leaves on a stretcher
Former Liverpool and Swansea City player Joe Allen has won 56 caps for Wales

Life is good again for Joe Allen.

On Boxing Day, the Wales midfielder put nine-and-a-half months of injury pain, frustration and rehabilitation behind him as he returned to action for Stoke City's first team.

Now he can play his part in helping the Potters' bid to win promotion from the Championship, followed by the prospect of a second successive European Championship finals with Wales.

And the 30-year-old is feeling more than a little guilty about that.

Allen had not played since March 2020 after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon.

He would have missed Euro 2020 if not for the tournament being postponed from last summer by the coronavirus pandemic, but now has time to work his way back to full fitness and form before the rearranged tournament on 11 June-11 July.

With Covid-19 costing so many people so much in heartache, loss and disruption, Allen fully acknowledges the "selfish" silver lining the virus has presented him with - but he intends to make the most of it.

"As soon as it (the injury) happened I remember being on the pitch and the first thing I was thinking was 'that's the Euros gone'," he told Elis James' Feast of Football podcast.

"Obviously there were also games left at Stoke and we were in a precarious position, I was thinking I'd miss the end of the season.

"At that point it hits you hard.

"It's terrible how it's come about (with the Covid-19 crisis), but I had the boost of the Euros being postponed - to be honest that was a win for pretty much only me.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Wales' Joe Allen compete at the Euro 2016 semi-finals
Joe Allen was an integral part of the Wales side that reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals

"Then everything stopped and for the first few weeks it wasn't much different being injured from the rest of the lads in a lot of ways.

"So the early days were okay. When we came back from lockdown and you start seeing others training for games, that's when it hits you.

"It seems so far away (returning to playing), six to nine months is the bracket you're given. Naturally I went 'that's six months then' but it was nine-and-a-half months, so the last few months ironically were the hardest.

"You were the closest to being able to play again, you feel you're ready to get back out there, but everybody is saying you're not there yet, you need to tick these boxes and make sure everything is tip-top before you get back out there.

"Mentally it's been tough, the first big injury. There's not too many players go through their careers without one, so you have so many people you can talk to about it.

"It's part of the job and probably lucky it hadn't happened earlier with how much I'd played. I hadn't really had a rest for a long time so in some ways it was inevitable.

"But it's given me a bit of a break to hopefully crack on again and hopefully have a few more years at it."

'Samson' Allen?

Footballers are notoriously superstitious and Allen cannot shake the idea that a haircut may have contributed to the worst injury of his career.

"It's one of those injuries that you think daily I've got to do all sorts of bits, got to keep on top of the strength. If you get lazy on it, it comes back to haunt you," said Allen, who has won 56 Wales caps.

"It was probably the result of having a good run of games for club and country, churned out a lot of games and it was just one of those things.

"I did bits to deal with it but I wasn't expecting it to explode the way it did. That came out of nowhere, I hadn't really been having any issues - I cut my hair off and two days later it exploded!

"What a decision to cut my hair, it still keeps me up at night now.

"I've had three starts and a couple of sub appearances now and it feels good. It's always nice to get the first 90 minutes, that's the big one - can you last, can you handle it - and thankfully I've come through it unscathed.

"Now it's trying to get a bit sharper and then getting back to the level of performances is hopefully what will come next."

While he may or may not be a modern-day Samson, Allen is hoping that this summer he will once again be part of a Wales squad being serenaded with the likes of 'Delilah' and other Welsh staples favoured by their loyal fanbase.

He was a key part of Chris Coleman's side that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and an in-form Allen would be a huge boost to the chances of the current crop - who in his absence clinched promotion to the Nations League's top flight.

Although venues could yet be changed for the Euros due to the pandemic, at the moment Wales will play their first two group games in Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku.

Wales open their campaign against Switzerland on Saturday, 12 June and then play Turkey four days later.

Their final group game in Rome against Italy is scheduled for 20 June.

"I'm hoping it's a good thing for Wales that it's been delayed, not just from a selfish point of view, it gives us another year to get ready, younger players get that bit more experience," added the Swansea product.

"Let's hope it's all worked out for the better from a Welsh point of view and I think we all can't wait now for the summer.

"If it's anything like last time we're going to have a great summer and a great year."

*Listen to Elis James' Feast of Football podcast on BBC Sounds.

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