Reports last night, courtesy of Andy Hunter of The Guardian, suggest Liverpool's rejuvenated young full-back Jon Flanagan will be rewarded with a new contract in due course, such is the remarkable rise of the local lad in recent months. This further proves the exceptional man-management skills of Reds manager Brendan Rodgers.
Hunter quotes Rodgers on the topic:
Jon will be given a new contract. Come the summer he's got another year so he will definitely be given a new deal in the summer, no question. He has been outstanding...He has made himself an important member of the squad.
That Rodgers singled out the 21-year-old for praise shows the new-found importance of Flanagan to the Liverpool squad, an achievement which is made even more admirable considering the position the full-back found himself in at the beginning of the season.
Baptisms of Fire
Initially thrust into action under Kenny Dalglish at the tail-end of the 2010-11 season, Flanagan made his Liverpool debut on the right-hand side of the defence in an emphatic 3-0 victory over Manchester City at Anfield.
A clean sheet was followed by wholesale praise, not least from Liverpool icon and then-teammate Jamie Carragher who, BBC Sport quoted, described Flanagan’s performance as “outstanding”: an adjective which seems to be becoming synonymous with the youngster.
According to WhoScored.com, Flanagan made seven league appearances for the Reds in 2010-11, with the Englishman following this up with five games in the following season.
This promising run ended, unfortunately, around a year after his debut. Deployed, once again, on the right flank in a tough away game at Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park, Flanagan brushed a tame back-pass towards deputy goalkeeper Doni, with Junior Hoilett nipping onto the ball to earn Blackburn a penalty and the Brazilian shot-stopper a red card.
Flanagan was duly substituted for replacement goalkeeper Brad Jones, who spared the full-back’s blushes somewhat, making the penalty save with his first touch of the ball.
In perhaps a poor-showing of managerial care from then-boss Kenny Dalglish, Flanagan failed to appear for the Reds again that season—a trend which Dalglish’s successor, Rodgers, would continue.
However, this season, he was afforded another baptism of fire—this time in Liverpool’s 2-0 November loss away to Arsenal—Flanagan has grabbed the chance with both hands and not let go.
On the second attempt, the local lad has proven his mettle.
The Next Steve Nicol?
Continuing his praise of the youngster, Rodgers likened the talents of Flanagan with an ex-Liverpool defender—utility player Steve Nicol: “He reminded me of Steve Nicol against Manchester United on Sunday—a right-footed player on the left side, steady, aggressive, no fear; he's been a revelation, and particularly in the big games.”
This comparison will no doubt be of huge importance to Flanagan who, as a lifelong Liverpool fan, will be well-versed in the ways of Liverpool’s dominance of the 1980s, and Nicol’s part to play in that.
With Liverpool entering the final quarter of the Premier League season, they are tasked with proving their genuine title credentials, and the importance of Liverpool-born players such as Flanagan will be paramount.
Kristian Walsh of the Liverpool Echo reported Flanagan’s title hopes back in February, with the right-back claiming: "For a local lad, not having a Premiership title for 18-20 years, it's in my mind every day.”
This title-shaped angst mirrors that of captain Steven Gerrard, and this passion will be of immeasurable importance if Liverpool are to continue their title charge.
Big Game Player
As Rodgers astutely marked, Flanagan has consistently and convincingly proven his talents on the big stage this season: another vital characteristic to Liverpool’s title hopes.
While never letting his standards drop when featuring this term, Flanagan has been at his most impressive in several important fixtures; not least in November’s 3-3 Merseyside Derby draw away to Everton.
Displaying the unique qualities of a local lad playing in a local derby, Flanagan thrust himself into the action head-on, contributing adeptly in defence and attack.
After the game, Gerrard saved individual praise for the full-back, as per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo:
It was one of the best derby performances I have seen for many years…He's a Liverpool fan like myself so I know what it meant to him to come into a derby and finish as our man of the match by a mile.
Flash forward to the present day and Rodgers lavished more individual praise on Flanagan following his performance against Manchester United last weekend, again as per Hunter: “United had to change [Juan] Mata over at the weekend. He booted Mata over to the other side and then [Adnan] Januzaj as well. He's not easily fazed.”
Tasked with stemming a near-£40m World Cup-winner in Mata, along with one of the Premier League’s most-vaunted prospects in Januzaj, Flanagan produced an assured performance, which culminated in a clean sheet for the Reds.
According to Squawka, Flanagan completed eight tackles, made two interventions and six clearances in a dominant performance at left-back.
With difficult fixtures at home to Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs yet to come in the title run-in, Rodgers will be able to depend on Flanagan’s big-game mentality.
Flanagan, as a player who has enjoyed an Anfield resurrection, has learnt first-hand of the exceptional man-management qualities of Liverpool’s manager.
Continuing his evaluation of Flanagan, Rodgers attested the importance of time in young players’ development: “How I work is I will always give players an opportunity. I will never disregard players early, they will always have a chance to show that they care and they can improve and that is what he has done.”
This opportunity was imperative to the rise of Flanagan in a Liverpool shirt this season, a Merseyside native who clearly thrives under pressure and has improved markedly under his manager this season—often alongside fellow Academy-product Raheem Sterling.
Much like the Jamaican-born winger, Flanagan could find himself a long-term fixture within Rodgers’ Liverpool squad: adapt to a manager’s philosophies and you will be repaid tenfold.
Commenting on Flanagan’s rise, Rodgers testified: “He thought the opportunity might have passed him by but now he is grabbing it with both hands and doesn't want to let it go.”
Within this, Rodgers echoes the feeling of every Liverpool fan going into this most unexpected of title charges, and Flanagan will be central to this.
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