Why England’s Trip to Miami Was More than a Holiday for Jon Flanagan

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Following his inclusion in the England squad for warm-up games in Miami prior to the World Cup, Jack Lusby suggests this was a vital experience for Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 15, 2013: Liverpool's Jon Flanagan applauds the travelling supporters after his first goal for the club helped seal a 5-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan returns home from Miami following England’s World Cup warm-up this week having experienced another significant turn of events in his young career.

Following his successful promotion into the Liverpool first team in 2013/14, the 21-year-old can now cherish a first senior international call-up, alongside making an England debut against Ecuador.

Having spent time around the senior England setup, Flanagan will bring home with him valuable experience which should stand the defender in great stead when it comes to the future.

More than just a holiday for the academy product, Flanagan can consider his trip to Miami with the Three Lions as an encouraging indicator towards his career trajectory.

 

Rise with Liverpool

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)

The 2013/14 season was a phenomenal, unexpected success for both Liverpool as a club and Flanagan as an individual.

Gifted a surprise reintroduction to the Reds’ first-team fold in the form of a first Premier League for 18 months in Liverpool’s league defeat to Arsenal in November of last year, Flanagan has grabbed the opportunity.

Despite his side’s failings in that particular game, Flanagan continued to impress Rodgers throughout 2013/14, and made the left-back position his own in place of the injured Jose Enrique.

His performances ousted the more-established, but considerably worse, Aly Cissokho from Rodgers’ consideration, and Flanagan quickly became a fan favourite.

An outstanding performance in the Reds’ 3-3 draw in November’s Merseyside Derby endeared Flanagan to his captain, Steven Gerrard:

“He doesn’t get many headlines but as captain of the team he was the player I am most proud of…the manager threw him in at the deep end against a top class player like Kevin Mirallas and I thought he was sensational. It was one of the best derby performances I have seen for many years.”

In particular, Flanagan’s no-nonsense, tough-tackling stance has become a hallmark of the 21-year-old’s game.

According to WhoScored.com, the full-back made on average 3.4 tackles per game, more than any other Liverpool player last season.

Having shown his credentials with Liverpool, a solid—if understated—cameo against Ecuador will have done much the same for England.

 

Glen Johnson

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, June 2, 2012: England's Glen Johnson in action against Belgium during the International Friendly match at Wembley. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Hodgson’s clear, de facto right-back for the World Cup is Flanagan’s teammate Glen Johnson.

However, the 29-year-old’s form for club and country of late must be a cause for concern for the England manager when considering the future.

Johnson failed to impose himself against both Peru and Honduras in England’s warm-up friendlies, and Phil McNulty of BBC Sport claimed that the defender’s “current form does not inspire confidence.”

Nonetheless, the former Portsmouth man is the only natural right-back in the England squad, following Flanagan’s departure, and—despite the threat of complacency—will surely start every game for Hodgson’s side at the World Cup.

The encouraging form of Flanagan last season, however, paired with his successful integration within the England setup this summer, may suggest Hodgson has a contingency plan in place for the future if Johnson’s poor form continues.

Rodgers seemingly agrees with Hodgson that this summer’s World Cup is too early a juncture for Flanagan to firmly establish himself as an England regular, as per The Guardian:

“I think this year might come too soon for him but there is absolutely no question he has got all the qualities to play in that position for England.”

Given the belief of his club manager, Flanagan has prevailed, and there is no question whether the 21-year-old is capable of stepping up to usurp Johnson in both the Premier League and at international level in the future.

Perhaps this experience in Miami is Hodgson’s first step towards this solution.

 

Other Prospects

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 1, 2012: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling in action against Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Surprisingly, in this season and the last, several credible, viable options have cropped up that may challenge for the right-back position for England in the future.

Alongside Flanagan, two of these are Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne and Crystal Palace utility man Joel Ward.

Below, these players are compared with Johnson, using statistics courtesy of WhoScored, including averages of tackles, interceptions, successful dribbles and key passes per game in last season’s Premier League.

England RB Comparison

Utilising this data shows that each is a competitive right-back option for England in the future, with each having comparable success with Johnson.

There is definitely an emerging contingent of defensive quality on the right-hand side of defence, and Flanagan is blessed as of this moment due to his previous inclusion in the England setup.

The 21-year-old’s England debut against Ecuador—a feat not achieved by Clyne or Ward as of yet—should provide Flanagan with a significant ‘in’ over other potential right-back suitors in the future.

As proven by the consistent inclusion of players such as Danny Welbeck and James Milner in the England squad, Hodgson is a manager who often favours familiar, dependable players.

Perhaps, given his new-found experience, Flanagan can consider himself a viable option above others for the future.

 

The Future is Bright

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 28, 2014: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers substitutes Jon Flanagan during the 222nd Merseyside Derby Premiership match against Everton at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Overall, Flanagan’s trip to Miami represents another step in the right direction for the Liverpool man, and an experience that the player himself clearly considered invaluable.

Per the Liverpool Echo, the local lad believes “Coming away with your country, it doesn’t get much better than that. There are top players from all around the country, so training with them is really good.”

This experience, in the training camp and on the pitch in Miami, could prove invaluable for Flanagan when considering his England future.

The 21-year-old now has one foot in the door, and is considered a clear option for the future by the international manager, as evidenced by Hodgson assertion that he would plump for either Flanagan or John Stones if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury problems worsened.

The 66-year-old was reported by BBC Sport as claiming “if the worst happened and we had to bring someone else back in I would probably turn to one of those two.”

Furthermore, a poor tournament from current first choice Glen Johnson may gift additional opportunities for the young full-back.

An exercise in crucial experience-gaining and a chance to assert himself once more, a short trip to Miami may prove pivotal in the future of Jon Flanagan for England.

Do you think Jon Flanagan could start for England in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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