Second chances don't come along often in football and when they do, a player must be sure to take it.
However, this season has seen Brendan Rodgers provide such a lifeline to Liverpool players whose time at Anfield appeared to have been on its way out a year ago. One of those is rejuvenated centre-back Martin Skrtel, the other is youngster Jon Flanagan.
Flanagan made his first Premier League start for 18 months in the league defeat at Arsenal in November, having previously made just one start under Rodgers—that being against Mansfield.
It's fair to say even Flanagan himself thought his Liverpool career was heading towards the exit. "There was a time when I had to get my head round the idea that I might have to go somewhere else, on loan or permanently," the 21-year-old explains in this month's official LFC magazine.
"Flanno" admits that he was thinking more about what the Emirates' directors box would be like before he made his shock return, a late replacement for Glen Johnson who was taken ill just before kick-off.
Flanagan was played in an unfamiliar right-wing-back role that night and Liverpool were handsomely outplayed by the then-league leaders. However, another opportunity arose in the Merseyside derby later that month and the local lad impressed at left-back.
"Our star man, for me, was Jon Flanagan," praised captain Steven Gerrard post-match, as per The Liverpool Echo. "I thought he was unbelievable. It was one of the best derby performances I have seen for many years."
Long-term injury to Jose Enrique, combined with time on the sidelines for Johnson and questions over Aly Cissokho's place in the starting XI have meant Flanagan has now equaled the total number of starts this season he had in the previous three seasons combined (14).
Since Johnson's return from injury recently, Flanagan has been given the nod at right-back, with the England international switching over to left-back. Those two look like Rodgers' preferred choices and Flanagan has certainly earned his place.
Without a doubt, the highlight of Flanagan's season, and career so far, was his goal in the 5-0 thrashing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane. "A first senior goal at White Hart Lane crowned his re-birth, guiding a half-volley in via the underside of the bar in poetic fashion," writes Aaron Cutler of This Is Anfield.
"To score my first goal in that way, I wasn’t even sure whether it had gone in," Flanagan recalls. "Thinking back, the feeling sends a tingle down my spine. I thought it’d hit the bar and gone out. Then I saw the net bulging. It was a bit of a blur."
Whether Flanagan can prove a long-term solution for Liverpool at full-back remains to be seen, but regardless of the future, he has shown that hard work, desire and commitment can get you a break—especially with the right manager in charge.
Rodgers deserves every credit for the way in which he has given Flanagan the confidence to rekindle his career at Liverpool.
“The manager is like a teacher–if you listen to him and take on board what he says and give everything, the opportunity will come,” explained Flanagan, providing another testimony to the work which the Northern Irishman has done at Liverpool.
Rodgers spoke last week on how he views success as being not just about winning trophies, but also giving value to younger players and developing them and the football club. "When I eventually retire from football I want to be able to look back and see that not only have I won trophies but I’ve developed a football club that has brought through their own players," explained the boss to LFCTV GO, quotes via This Is Anfield.
Rodgers has shown that he is willing to provide players with opportunities, even in the unlikely case of Flanagan, and that if the player takes the opportunity, they will remain a part of the squad on merit. It's an admirable trait for a manager today, where the pressures of modern football often see a manager afraid to put their faith in young players.
That certainly isn't a concern at Anfield with Rodgers in charge.
This interview with Flanagan is an exclusive extract from the new issue of LFC Magazine. Readers can subscribe via this link, or by calling the hotline on 08700 20 20 20. The magazine is also available in digital format on Newsstand or via the Pocketmags app on Kindle Fire and Blackberry Playbook.
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