Regrets & ‘if onlys’ of duo who almost helped Liverpool win the title

Back in Brendan Rodgers’ tenure, Liverpool came agonisingly close to winning the title before falling short. Two players from around that time have spoken about their regrets, as they both face a summer of uncertainty.

The 2013/14 campaign was undoubtedly the finest season for one local player who was still in making the breakthrough: Jon Flanagan.

A tough-tackling full-back, he had debuted under Kenny Dalglish but became a regular at left-back that year under Rodgers, filling in on his unfavoured side and bringing a tenacious edge to a defence which was rather open, adding to the overall thrilling nature of the Reds’ play for the neutrals.

It quickly went downhill for Flanagan thereafter, as the injuries mounted up, off-field incidents impacted his standing and a loan move to Burnley barely yielded any game time.

Speaking to the Athletic, ‘Flanno’ acknowledged that even now he looks back at the 13/14 season as a “what if,” wondering if he might have continued his upward trajectory had things panned out differently in May.

“That was my best season,” he said.

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)

“No one expected us to challenge for the title but in the second half of the season we went on an amazing run. We played some great stuff.

“[Luis] Suarez was just phenomenal. Some of the things he did in training and in games were outrageous. He and Stevie [Gerrard] have to be the best two I’ve ever played with.

“I can’t help but think ‘if only’. We came so close. How different would things have been if we had won the league that season? How different would the years since have been for me? It preys on your mind but it’s gone and there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Flanagan also scored his only goal for Liverpool—his only goal to-date in senior football, in fact—that season, smashing one in against Spurs in an absolute rout.

“I’ll never forget that feeling of scoring and then celebrating in front of the away end and seeing my dad in the crowd,” he added.

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

Looking to the future, Flanagan is now out of contract and a free agent after being released by Gerrard at Rangers.

He’s open-minded as to the level he’ll need to return at and knows it’ll be tricky to join a club quickly in the close-season, however long that lasts for in 2020, but looking further ahead has added his voice to those suggesting Gerrard could make a good boss at Anfield in future.

“Stevie has done a great job up there so far. He has massively improved things. I’ve known him for a long time and I always thought he would make a fantastic manager.

“I can see Stevie taking over from Jurgen [Klopp] one day. As a Liverpool fan, it’s definitely what I want to see.

“Having worked with him, I know what he’s about, I know how good he is. If anyone can follow on from what Jurgen has achieved at Liverpool, then it’s Stevie. But I don’t think Jurgen is going anywhere for quite a while yet.”

While Flanagan was a big part of the starting 11 which went so close in 2014, one of Rodgers’ early signings had already fallen out of favour.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 10, 2015: Liverpool's Fabio Borini and Sunderland's Patrick van Aanholt during the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Fabio Borini was one of the first through the door after Rodgers’ appointment, but in 13/14 he was on loan at Sunderland—and netted one of the goals which gave the Reds a massive chance to claim the title.

His penalty beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, leaving the Reds five points clear, but they couldn’t quite finish the job.

The Italian striker is now on loan at Hellas Verona from AC Milan and, like Flanagan, is out of contract in the summer. His time at Liverpool was far from goal-laden in the manner he had hoped for, but he says unfortunate impact injuries were largely the reason.

“It was good but it was hard [in Liverpool],” he said to the Athletic.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, August 9, 2012: Liverpool's Fabio Borini celebrates scoring the opening goal against FC Gomel on his home debut during the UEFA Europa League Third Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“I had serious injuries, the traumatic kind where there’s nothing I could have controlled. I broke my foot and dislocated my shoulder after two tackles. There’s nothing you can do to prevent those.

“It was unfortunate in that respect but it was good because I got to meet my wife. Maybe it wasn’t so positive on the football side of things but it was for my life.”

Both Flanagan and Borini retain strong links to the city and the club and expressed their delight that the Reds are finally ready to end their long wait for the title.

They both almost contributed to doing so six years ago, but it’s the current crop who have finally gone one step further and are ready to end 30 years of waiting, when the Premier League finally gets back underway.