Aaron Cutler

Columnist

Flani Alves: How Jon Flanagan salvaged his Liverpool career

Aaron Cutler takes a look at how Jon Flanagan has revived his Liverpool career this season.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's Jon Flanagan in action against Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Jon Flanagan in action against Arsenal. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Be honest, you never envisaged Jon Flanagan starring in a 5-1 trouncing of Arsenal. Then again, few imagined Jon Flanagan forcing his way into a Brendan Rodgers squad, let alone a starting XI.

The turnaround in fortunes of Liverpool’s rookie full-back has been quite remarkable. Thrust into the first team picture at a mere 18 he offered initial promise before falling from favour quite spectacularly. He seemed set to be remembered for one suicidal back-pass at Ewood Park, costing the unfortunate Doni both a red card and Wembley appearance in the process.

A resultant Premier League exile showed no signs of abating with Flanno destined to follow former academy graduates Stephen Wright and Jon Otsemobor through the Anfield exit door and into league football wilderness.

His fate was all but sealed during Rodgers first pre-season, where the Being: Liverpool cameras caught him instructing the youngster to keep it simple – ‘You’re not Cafu’ his honest but brutal assessment. To his eternal credit Flanagan knuckled down and worked at his game, desperate to salvage a Liverpool career his father was denied. More on that later.

Reserve team football beckoned, save for an infamous FA Cup game at Oldham – the less said about that the better. Having become an almost satirical figure, there was collective shock and dread at a sudden recall away to Arsenal in November.

Glen Johnson was ruled out through illness and thus Flanagan was pitted against the league leaders in an unfamiliar wing-back position. The reds themselves fell desperately flat but the youngster’s performance was fairly solid. He defended soundly, offered width when possible and never hid from receiving possession, despite The Gunners imperious pressing game. Substituted in the 68th minute he hardly silenced his critics but kept them at bay.

Normal service was resumed the following weekend with Flanagan dropped from both the team and squad for the visit of Fulham. Indeed, there was every chance that Emirates cameo would prove his sole appearance of the Premier League season. Until Goodison Park.

Rumours abounded in the week preceding the Merseyside Derby that Flanno would be involved. Even so, his eventual inclusion surprised many.

Blue eyes lit up at the certain mismatch that would prove Mirallas vs. Flanagan. The Belgian certainly played his part in a pulsating 3-3 draw but his impact came in spite of Flanno, not because of him. Indeed, Liverpool’s number 38 was outstanding throughout. Far from overawed by the occasion he relished his chance and Simon Mignolet apart, was far-and-away the reds best performer.

Never in doubt was that tigerish tenacity but nobody realised how composed he was (or rather had become) in possession. Countless times he received the ball in tight areas only to pop it off to a reds shirt and spring an attack. He won a near 90% of his challenges and showed tactical awareness belying his years, covering the bewildered Martin Skrtlel and Daniel Agger on numerous occasions. And lest we forget, this all came from a left-back berth, by no means his natural position.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 15, 2013: Liverpool's Jon Flanagan celebrates scoring the third goal against Tottenham Hotspur during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool fans love nothing more than one of their own shining in the heat of a derby atmosphere and plaudits rightly followed. Steven Gerrard led the acclaim, declaring ‘Our star man, for me, was Jon Flanagan. I thought he was unbelievable. It was one of the best derby performances I have seen for many years.’ The skipper even led his team in a round of applause for the rookie’s display. Some statement.

Keen to show this was no adrenalin fuelled flash in the pan, Flanagan set-about disproving all critics in the run-up to Christmas. He started the next five games and grew in both stature and confidence accordingly. 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. A picturesque moment for both player and team even little Flanno joined in the celebrations!

His mentor, Jamie Carrgher, shared in his delight, texting ‘Well done – the next Roberto Carlos.’

When injury struck against Cardiff the following weekend cynics felt that was that for Flanagan. A brief purple patch in light of injuries was his lot; his own absence would spark the end of this mini-revival. But as has become common in this fledgling career, the defender bounced back.

He was missed away to City and Chelsea, where both Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho’s merits were called into question. And since returning to the fold at Bournemouth he has been an ever-present.

Another fine showing in a Merseyside Derby stifled Pienaar and Baines before Saturday’s demolition of Arsenal wherin Flanagan rendered the threat of Monreal and Cazorla meaningless. Having featured in 11 of the previous 12 games in which he’s been available we can now say Flanagan has salvaged his Liverpool career. Moreover, he has put forward a compelling case for a regular start when Johnson, Enrique and co. return to the fold.

Comparisons to Cafu and Dani Alves are perhaps a little far-fectched but Flanagan has attributes befitting a top quality full-back. Whisper it but his style of play is more in-keeping with a Gary Neville, by no means a world beater but an accomplished defender who developed his game in the final third. That is something Flanagan must work on.

The modern full-back is expected to overlap and provide an attacking threat. At present, Flanagan has only mustered four shots, while his cross completion rate is a lowly 11%. Those stats will have to change, particularly given the importance of full-backs in a Rodgers set-up. But the manager will work with him, as he appears to have done in possession. Nobody rated Flanagan’s ball-play anywhere near the level required of a Liverpool side built on tiki-taka principles. Recent performances have changed that perception a hundred fold.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 2, 2013: Liverpool's Jon Flanagan in action against Arsenal during the Premiership match at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And of course the main objective of any defender is to defend, which Flanagan does to great aplomb. There is little point in a full-back marauding forward but abandoning defensive responsibilities. A healthy medium must be struck. To date he’s won 75% of tackles attempted and more than half his aerial duels. That is a solid base from which to build.

The refreshing thing about Flanno is he has shown a willingness to improve and carve out a career in spite of his shortcomings; something his father John never managed having been branded ‘lazy’ by Phil Thompson.

Few predicted Jamie Carragher would enjoy such an illustrious career when he burst onto the scene as a fiery local lad whose technique was forever called into question. Flanagan look no further than his former teammate as an example of what can be achieved. Born just a stone’s throw from Anfield he’ll have The Kop willing him on and after this season nobody will be writing him off again.

Aaron has been writing for us since 2006. He focuses on The Reds' fortunes both home and abroad with insightful, analytical and humorous input. He is also a feature writer for Country Music People Magazine. Having graduated with a degree in Multi-Media Journalism Aaron now works as a Content Manager in Dorset but still gets to Anfield frequently.

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  • CARR71

    time for johnson to be moved on flanno his younger and better ,we also have kelly and wisdom as back up,

    • Scott Brown

      I’m inclined to agree but let’s take into consideration that Johnson has been playing injured all season and perhaps see if he returns to last year’s form when he returns from injury. He may not but I don’t think we should be too hasty to offload a player who, when fit last season, was being called one of the best fullbacks in England.

      • CARR71

        the facts are is form as seriously dropped he has a short contract fsg want him to sign a new one on a lot less wages which proberbly is not going to happen so we may as well cash in now whilst we can get some sort of fee for him

        • Scott Brown

          I honestly hadn’t heard about the wage cut with a new contract. That certainly adds a spin to it. If he won’t sign a new contract soon then we definitely should sell him so as to get some sort of return. If he does sign; however, I think we should see if he returns to form.

          • CARR71

            he his on big wages fsg want to cut them back ,i thought it was common knowledge

          • Scott Brown

            Ach I’m sure it is very common knowledge. The truth is that my wife and I are full time students and we had a baby 9 months ago. Since then I don’t always have time to read all the news like I used to. The odd bits and bobs tend to leak through the cracks.

      • Red white and blue Kop

        I am not sold on his injury. I have that gut feeling as soon as he heard pay cut he downed his tools. He is a shadow of years past.

        • Scott Brown

          Very well could be mate.

    • serbianred

      I wouldn’t get rid of Glenn just yet mate, although I would move him to left back at the moment as Flanno deserves his spot as right back. Glenn was good this season until the first injury and rumors of contract started. The only problem with Glenn as left back would be that we would have too many players who cut in from left to right thus losing the width on the left. I have seen glimpses of Ryan Mcloughing(not sure if i spelled it right) and he looks really good as a young fullback although I am not sure if he is better as left or right fullback. For me Wisdom if he gets bacj into first team should not really play as fullback as his ball control leaves a lot to be desired. Kelly even though he is LFC born and bread due to injuries will not make the grade and should be either sold or sent on loan to prove his fittnes.

      • CARR71

        enrique is better at right back imo

  • ollirD

    Flanno & Ciss, now thats a pair of good-looking fullbacks. Liverpool’s Crockett & Tubbs.

  • Kid of Kop

    Johnson is better in attacking, going forward, shooting etc… but his first duty is to defend which he makes silly mistakes…

    Flanangan is learning the trades of attacking but is much better in defending. He needs to improve his physicality so that he can cope with big strikers….. Kelly is perfect if he returns to form, then we have atleast one position sorted out for the next 10 years….

    • SuarezSticksIt2U_Again

      Kelly is finished as a Liverpool player mate. Injuries have killed what little speed he had and lack of games has sent his ability/quality into a nosedive and i doubt he will ever get it back. Time to move both him & Coates on.

      • Andrew Thomas Kurian

        Its sad though.. Kelly was once the RB in the European team of the month..jan 2012 i think..

      • Zhenya

        I wouldn’t be so sure… Kelly missed a whole year two or three years ago due to an injury (I believe it was related to his back) and then shined once he came back… this time around he’s had several injuries but none as long, so he still played some in between, so there’s every chance he can shake this off and come good again. At least I hope so.

  • SuarezSticksIt2U_Again

    “Born just a stone’s throw from Anfield he’ll have The Kop willing him on” –

    Spot on Aaron

    He is developing a cult following because he is the local lad made good – and deservedly so.

    Another Rodgers success story. He has the opportunity to make right back/wingback HIS right now and has grasped it with both hands.

    If he keeps improving at the same rate Johnson won’t get a look in next season.

  • Gabe B

    It’s great to see Flanno’s now going to have a career here with us after all.

    It’s obvious Rogers has improved him. Along with Hendo they’ve both benefited immensely from his coaching.

  • Scott Brown

    Good man yourself. I can’t imagine being a single father of three. Fair play to ya mate!

    • CARR71

      its by choice mate not having too ,enjoy him or her whilst hey are little i am sure you will

      • Scott Brown

        Completely understand that. We love our wee fella and have loads of fun with him. Can’t wait until he’s old enough to go to Anfield with me.

        • CARR71

          the first time you take your lads is magical no matter who you play or the result