Under King Kenny in 2011, two young full-backs were given their first appearances for Liverpool in the Premier League. Whilst Jack Robinson, the club’s second youngest player to make an appearance, failed to live up to expectation and has since been sold to QPR, the other debutant is still at the club. Now 22, Jon Flanagan has won the hearts of many fans for his determined displays at full-back. After a breakout year during the 2013/14 season, Flanagan was regularly playing at right-back with the more experienced Glen Johnson being shifted to the left to accommodate Flanagan. However, after making 25 appearances during the season, the 22 year old has failed to make another appearance as surgery on his knee has plagued the young man. So with less than a year left on his contract, what lies ahead for Flanagan?
After not having played a competitive match since May 2014, when/if Flanagan returns to the first team squad he will no longer see the likes of Stevie G or Luis Suarez. In fact, from the starting 11 in Flanno’s last game for the Reds, only Mignolet, Skrtel, and Henderson have played any part in the four games so far this season. It is fair to say that Flanno will see a very different team training at Melwood. Perhaps the most important difference to the young full-back is that his main competitor is now Nathaniel Clyne for the right-back slot. Whereas Jon managed to oust Glen Johnson so easily, the early signs are that the form of Clyne will keep Flanagan out of the starting eleven.
With the £12.5million signing of Clyne, Flanagan may be utilised as a backup player. This could suit Flanagan and the Reds very well. With Flanagan on wages around £35,000 per week, it is unlikely that the Reds could find a better deputy for similar wages. Perhaps even more important, Flanno is a born and bred Scouser. With Gerrard and Carragher leaving in recent years, there is a severe lack of Scouse born players at the club. Although Flanagan is not the quickest nor the best technically, we have seen that the lad has unreal determination and his battling displays against Spurs and United in the 2013/14 season was clear evidence of this. Having Flanagan as a willing backup who has the drive and passion to play for his boyhood club will ensure Clyne keeps putting the effort in as Flanagan will be breathing down his neck at the chance to play.
The signs are that Rodgers has faith in the young man. Despite not having played during the 2014/15 season, Flanagan was given a contract extension at the end of the season to ensure that he could continue his rehabilitation at the club. Although only a one-year extension, Rodgers has shown before that he trusts the full-back. So as long as the Scouse Cafu can make some good progress from his injury, there is a good chance he may earn another extension. The hope is that Flanagan will return to the first-team at some point this season and may be able to play some games to build his fitness up.
However, when I think of Flanagan, I can’t help but think of another former full-back, Martin Kelly. The career trajectory of both Flanagan and Kelly is very similar. Kelly was also born in Merseyside and came through the academy at Melwood in to the first-team. Before injury, Kelly made 54 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions. Flanagan has made 42 appearances so far prior to his injury. Both players’ form forced their manager to push Glen Johnson to left-back in order to accommodate the two into their preferred right-back position. Both players earned themselves a call up to a major international championship for England with Kelly going to Euro 2012 and Flanagan being a standby for the World Cup 2014. Finally, both players have picked up serious knee injuries just as they came in to a good run of form. Kelly eventually returned to the team, but despite his previous performances, the 23 year old was restricted to only a further 8 appearances for the Reds before manager Brendan Rodgers sold the player for approximately £2 million to Crystal Palace. The hope is that Jon Flanagan will not end up leaving in the same way.
With Flanagan earning himself the nickname of ‘The Scouse Cafu’, many fans will be hoping that Jon Flanagan will be able to return from injury and join the first-team to continue his career. This season is key for Flanagan though, as with only one year remaining on his contract, if the full-back fails to properly rehabilitate at the club, Rodgers may feel that it is time to release Flanagan so he can try to revive his career elsewhere. With Clyne coming in to the side and securing the right-back slot for the foreseeable future, Flanagan could have a future as a loyal backup. This all depends on the recovery process for Flanagan and whether he can show the same form once he returns that made him a fan favourite in the first place.