Joe Allen: Wales and Stoke City midfielder's memorable year

Joe Allen
Joe Allen made his senior Wales debut against Estonia in Llanelli in May 2009

Joe Allen is not likely to forget 2016 in a hurry - it was an eventful year for the Welsh midfielder.

The 26-year-old played a pivotal role as Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and was named in Uefa's team of the tournament.

At club level Allen featured in the Europa League final for Liverpool before leaving the Reds for Premier League Stoke City in July.

Allen reflects on a busy 12 months with former Wales and Swansea City team-mate Owain Tudur Jones in a programme which will be broadcast on Radio Cymru on Boxing Day.

Joe Allen battles for the ball with Belgium's Radja Nainggolan
Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in the European Championship quarter-finals

'Incredible' Euro 2016

Allen played in all six of Wales' games at the European Championship finals in France, their first appearance at a major tournament in 58 years.

"It was an incredible experience and one of those things I find myself thinking back to almost all of the time," Allen said.

"Going into the opening game against Slovakia, everyone knew this was our time. I remember going out to warm up and seeing red everywhere in the stadium.

"The fans were special and made so much of a difference to all of the players.

"The memories I have are all fond memories."

Joe Allen playing for Liverpool

Leaving Liverpool

Allen had joined Liverpool from Swansea for £15m during the summer of 2012 but had mixed fortunes at Anfield.

Even though he had one year of his contract remaining, Allen opted to move on after starting only eight Premier League games during the 2015-16 season.

His substitute appearance in Liverpool's Europa League final defeat to Sevilla proved to be his final game for Jurgen Klopp's team.

"It's not an easy decision to leave a huge club like Liverpool," Allen added.

"I was there for four years and had the experience of playing in Champions League games and the Europa League final.

"I remember after the final in Basel, as well as feeling disappointed about losing the game, I felt it was possibly the last game I'd played for Liverpool.

"I knew the time was right for me to move on and get my career up and running at another club."

Joe Allen in action for Stoke City
Stoke City signed Allen for £13m from Liverpool in July

Stoke, not Swansea

Following his performances for Wales at Euro 2016, Allen was linked with clubs from the Premier League and abroad.

Former club Swansea City declared their interest in re-signing the player but he joined Stoke City, managed by fellow Welshman Mark Hughes.

"I'd heard in the press that there was possible interest from Swansea in me going back there but it was Stoke that came in for me," Allen said.

"A whirlwind summer ended with me signing for Stoke.

"I was really excited to get things underway after the Euros and to start a new chapter in my career with Stoke.

"The results at the start of the season weren't great but we've picked up and I've had chance to play in a number of games. I'm enjoying my time here."

Joe Ledley celebrates with Joe Allen
Joe Allen (right) celebrates with Joe Ledley after scoring for Wales in the 2-2 draw with Austria in October 2016

Goals, goals, goals

Allen has never been noted for his goalscoring prowess, netting only 15 goals prior to the current season and failing to find the net for Wales.

He scored his first international goal in September's 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Moldova, followed by a stunning volley in the next game against Austria in Vienna.

Playing in a more advanced role for Stoke, Allen hit a rich vein of goalscoring form for his club with four goals in three games and has scored five so far this season.

"It's a great feeling scoring for your country. It's a really proud moment," Allen said.

Joe Allen scores against Moldova
Allen scored Wales' second goal in the 4-0 win over Moldova at Cardiff City Stadium

"It had been a long while coming after 30-odd caps but it didn't make it any less sweeter and in some way there was relief to get it.

"The goal against Austria showed the confidence I had at that time after scoring my first goal against Moldova and had scored a couple for Stoke.

"I didn't think twice. I just hit it with my left foot - which is strange in itself - and it's one of the best goals that I've scored."

Recognition

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My 2016 highlight: Wales footballer Joe Allen recalls Euro 2016

Allen's performances for Wales were recognised and, along with fellow Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, he was named in Uefa's Euro 2016 team of the tournament.

He was also named the players' and fans' player of the year at the annual Football Association of Wales awards, much to his surprise.

"It means so much but it was such a shock," Allen said.

"To get those awards meant so much to me and I will treasure both of them very much.

"I had a couple of difficult years at Liverpool and been a laughing stock a few times so things have changed a bit."

Return to Anfield and Welsh hopes for 2017

Allen and his Stoke City side have a busy festive schedule, including a return to former club Liverpool on 27 December.

Joe Allen (right) with former Swansea City and Wales team-mate Owain Tudur Jones
Joe Allen (right) with former Swansea City and Wales team-mate Owain Tudur Jones

Wales resume their World Cup qualifying campaign in the New Year.

Chris Coleman's side are third in their group and four points behind group leaders the Republic of Ireland, who they face in Dublin on 24 March.

"A good start to 2017 with a win out in Ireland would be perfect," he said.

"We're confident we can do it and get things back on track to qualify for Russia."

Listen to the full Welsh language interview on Blwyddyn Joe Allen (Joe Allen's Year) on BBC Radio Cymru on Boxing Day at 12:00 GMT

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