Scouting Report: Charlie Allen

In this piece, Jon Mackenzie watches some video of Charlie Allen to assess the youngster’s ability…

It’s not the first time it has happened and it certainly won’t be the last… Leeds have been linked with a “hot young prospect”. Last week, Graham Smyth wrote a piece about the Northern Irish youngster, Charlie Allen, an attacking midfielder or striker who plays for David Healy’s Linfield side in the NIFL Premiership.

Initial signs are all very promising. “Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City and Glasgow Rangers are all among the clubs to have shown an interest in Allen, who made his senior bow aged 15 years, five months and five days, becoming the Blues’ youngest-ever debutant and capping the appearance with an assist,” writes Graham Smyth. Who wouldn’t want to be in the race for a youngster like that?

But how good a prospect is he, really?

In the Yorkshire Evening Post piece, a couple of opinions are given. Firstly, this from Jim Magilton, former Ipswich and Northern Ireland player who is now the elite performance director for the Irish FA:

“Charlie is one of those boys that you throw him on to the park and go and ask him to play. [He’ll] play anywhere with the same attitude and enthusiasm. Technically very good and physically can handle it — he is quick enough and he has a real chance. Great attitude, enthusiastic, and applies himself every day. He’s been in full-time academy from September and he’s been excellent.”

Of course, it’s important not to ignore things like ‘attitude’ and ‘enthusiasm’ but most interesting here are the material attributes of his game. In terms of the mechanics of his game, we’re told that he’s ‘technically very good’ and ‘physically can handle it’ as well as being ‘quick enough’.

Already there are euphemisms here. ‘Technically very good’ and ‘okay physically’ suggest he’s smaller, which he is. I couldn’t find his vital statistics but I would suspect he’s around 5’ 6/7” and around 60–65kg (purely based on the video I watched so take with a pinch of salt). ‘Quick enough’ also suggests that speed is not a major attribute. Could we be dealing with a player who isn’t physically up to the task despite his talent?

Graham also spoke to Patrick Van Dort, deputy sports editor for JPIMedia in Northern Ireland, who had some interesting takes to add to the mix:

“He doesn’t try to do too much, he doesn’t get flustered on the ball, speaking to team-mates they trust him. Fans have compared him to Billy Gilmour [Chelsea teenager] in terms of playing style. He’s got game intelligence and at first-team level for Linfield he’s been disciplined. People say he’s a dream to coach, a good listener and ticks the boxes you’d expect of someone so highly rated.”

Already a picture should be emerging. He’s a ball carrier. A build-up player. Intelligent on the ball. Disciplined.

The Billy Gilmour similarity is notable. No doubt you’ve come across Gilmour in the Premier League this season. Gilmour has had impressive performances against some of the best teams in the league and looks very reminiscent of a young Lewis Cook.

The prospect of a player like this turning up at Elland Road is clearly attractive. But how accurate is this presentation? I decided to dig a little deeper and find out.

This season, Charlie Allen has played three times for Linfield (plus once in the domestic cup). When I first checked him out on Transfermarkt, I was excited to see that he had a full appearance in one of the games. However, this turned out to be an error in the system and he had a short substitute appearance.

Putting aside my disappointment, I settled with his performance against the delightfully named Institute FC in which he put in a whole 16 minutes at the end of the game. When Allen came on, Linfield were 2–0 up and they ran out 3–0 winners thanks to a late penalty in which he was not involved.

Now, there are some caveats: Linfield were 2–0 up when he came on; he came on after 74 minutes; this is the NIFL Premiership not the Premier League (no disrespect, of course, but he has been compared to Billy Gilmour); I watched this on video that looked like it had been filmed on a phone. But despite that, Charlie Allen looks like a decent young player for a 16-year-old.

Three moments, in particular, stood out from his performance. Firstly, this progression displays his impressive ball-carrying ability:

There’s a lot to like. Receiving the ball, Allen is happy to use his left foot to bring it under control. He then nutmegs an opponent which he is only able to do because he takes a double step with the same foot — he’s clearly very mobile and competent on the ball. Where the ball seems to be running away from him, he gets there ahead of another opposition player and then makes a good pass that is ruined by his teammate.

With this ball carrying, you can see where the Gilmour comparisons come in. It’s easy, of course, to make allusions between players of similar physicality. However, it’s also important to remember that Gilmour and Allen play different roles in their respective teams: Allen is a more progressive 8 and sits further forward; Gilmour is more of a build-up player and will drop deeper to help with development in early transition phases. This isn’t to say they couldn’t be interchanged. But we don’t know how either would do in the other’s role at this point (with the caveat that I need to watch more Gilmour).

In this next clip, we see some smart on the ball play then smart off the ball play:

Again, the right-footed Allen takes the ball in with his left before passing smartly with his right. He then pushes forward to make space for his teammate before dropping back into that space when his teammate goes more vertically.

That checks off the ‘intelligent on the pitch’ box, for sure. He’s clearly thinking about movement, spacing and manipulation of opposition structures. All of which bodes well for a player under Marcelo Bielsa.

Finally, a passage of play in which Allen is under pressure:

Here, the youngster receives the ball from one of his teammates and takes a poor first touch. That doesn’t faze him though and he manages to break a two-player press, bring the ball under control and recycle it. It also showcases his physicality, holding off a bigger player to bring the ball down.

It seems, then, that the assessments of Charlie Allen are largely insightful. He seems a decent young player who could be used in a central area within a Bielsa system without too much hassle. At 16 years old, he’s clearly got some growing to do but he already looks a mature player.

There do remain questions. Will Allen make the transition to a more difficult league well? What is his ceiling? Will he be affected by the move from Northern Ireland? How will he develop with age?

All of these are fair questions to ask and go some way to explaining why not all youth talent develops into adult talent. However, Charlie Allen seems exactly the sort of player Leeds should be bringing into their youth systems and, nurtured correctly, he could go on to be a decent player for the club.

You can follow Jon Mackenzie on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie.

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A Leeds United blog which focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game

A Leeds United blog which focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game