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Jon Flanagan: Scout Report | Merseyside’s next home town hero

Jon Flanagan: Merseyside’s next home town hero

Jon Flanagan: Merseyside’s next home town hero

Liverpool fans have been given a lot to cheer for this season, ranging from the sublime goal scoring ability of the clinical “SAS” strike partnership leading the team to mount their first serious title charge since 2009, to the rejuvenation of legendary skipper Steven Gerrard in a new holding midfield role. One amongst those causes of jubilation is surely the rise of another Merseyside hero, Jon Flanagan.

Who is Jon Flanagan?

Jonathan Patrick Flanagan much like club legends Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carrahager was born in Merseyside, in Jan 1993. His father himself was a footballer who was an apprentice at Liverpool, and didn’t quite make the cut. Jon, not being discouraged by his father’s experiences, joined the Liverpool youth academy in 2007 at the age of 14.  Flanagan has himself stated in a number of interviews that he is often driven on by his father’s failure, keen to not make the same mistakes. Jon, like his uncle Bradley Orr (known for his time with Blackburn, and currently on loan at Toronto FC) plies his trade at the right fullback position.

He continues the Liverpool tradition of tough tackling fullbacks such as Jamie Carrahager and legendary European cup winner Steve Nicol. Flanagan soon moved up the ranks at the academy and in 2010/11 was one of the youngest players in Liverpool’s history to have been allotted with a shirt number, a few weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday. His impressive performances for the reserve team had gathered him great praise and was picked out as one of the reserve team players to watch by the respected sport writer, Tony Barrett of The Times, who had predicted great things for the youngster.

It was Kenny Dalglish, whose boots Flanagan’s father had once cleaned as an apprentice, who gave the promising youngster his debut in 2011 when he was manager. Jon, having just celebrated his eighteenth birthday, made his debut with a full start against Manchester City in the Premier League on 11th April, 2011, in a 3-0 victory. He put in a composed performance at right back against a City team filled with attacking threat, keeping a clean sheet.

Perhaps a greater test of character and composure was on his second start just six days later at the Emirates against Arsenal when he accidently collided and knocked out captain Jamie Carragher. What would have easily affected any youngster his age in a big game, Jon put his head down and didn’t let his performance deter. This standard of performance was exhibited over the last 7 games of the season, even playing a couple of games at left back, a role which he had never played before with utmost composure and assurance. Flanagan was even awarded Young Player of the 2010–2011 season for his consistent contribution.

However despite such a promising debut season, the seasons 2011/12 and 2012/13 were filled with disappointment as a dip in form coupled with a series of injuries stalled Flanagan’s progress with only a handful of chances coming his way. Jose Enrique and Glenn Johnson formed a formidable fullback partnership and Andre Wisdom leapfrogged Flanagan as a viable understudy.

Finally, after a lot of struggle, 2013/14 was a breakthrough season for Flanagan. A bit of good luck with injuries to Glenn Johnson and Jose Enrique and a loan spell for Andre Wisdom, allowed him to start his first game in eighteen months with a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion. In the next game against Arsenal, he put in a hardworking performance which earned him rave reviews as Liverpool romped home 5-1 victors. Flanagan never looked back after that, and has consistently featured in Brendan Rodger’s side through out the remainder of the campaign, even at left back, a role which the right-footed Liverpudlian has played with relative ease. His performance in his first ever Merseyside derby, a 3-3 draw, earned him a round of applause from the dressing room, and left Steven Gerrard filled with praise, who hailed him as the next Jamie Carrahager.

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So far, he has made 17 appearances (and counting) in the Premier League, playing in the biggest of games. Arguably, his most impressive performances till date must be in the 5-0 and 4-0 defeats of Tottenham Hotspur. In December at the Lane he scored his debut goal with a sensational half volley into the roof, a goal which even legendary Liverpool striker and former manager Kenny Dalglish found exquisite as he hid no joy celebrating at Anfield. Another moment which earned him great praise was his superbly timed, committed tackle on Roberto Soldado at Anfield, a testament to his passionate and brave defending.

The Kop have always had a romance with home-grown heroes, even greater now considering the small percentage of home-grown talent that make it through the club ranks. Having been a crucial factor in this season’s title charge, Flanagan can definitely expect to be a part of Brendan Rodgers plans, having recently signed a new contract. With Liverpool poised for Champions League football next season, Flanagan has the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage in club football.

Styles, strengths and weaknesses

As much as these comparisons to great marauding fullbacks have been made, Flanagan isn’t quite like the Brazilians yet. In fact he’s more of a tough tackling, physical type of fullback, something Liverpool have been accustomed to watching over years. Flanagan bears no light resemblance to former Manchester United skipper and legend Gary Neville. Much like Neville, Jon who isn’t the most gifted individual in terms of natural talent has reached the level he has due to his “unfaltering determination and consistent hard work”, the very same lines Neville uses in his autobiography “Red” to describe the key to his breakthrough to the United team, and becoming an integral part of the famed class of  ’92. 

There are many things that stand out about Jon that reflects Gary Neville, even though such an early comparison to a legend seems almost certainly absurd. He works tirelessly every game, defending with fire in his belly, going in strong for every challenge aerial dual and perhaps most noticeably those “50-50” chances (again a trait of Gary Neville). At the same time he isn’t shy about helping out in the opponents half, a skill which he demonstrated superbly when he scored against Tottenham. His composure, sensibility and calm approach at such a young age have impressed many.

Primarily a right back, he has on many occasions been deployed as a left back despite favouring his right foot, a task which he has served well with a cool head. He has even on occasion operated as an advanced wingback when Brendan Rodgers opted for a three man defence, something which he showed no apparent discomfort in. While the stats may not give the complete picture, for those number crunchers out there, Flanagan in his 17 games has had an average of 3.6 tackles a game. It’s an absolutely outstanding stat taking into consideration that some of the Premier league’s leading fullbacks such as Branislav Ivanovic and Leighton Baines have 2 and 3.1 tackles per games respectively. He has almost 2 interceptions per game and even a healthy pass completion rate of 83.1%, which are once again amongst the best for a fullback in the league. At 21, Flanagan is still young, considering a fullback peaks and enjoys his best footballing years between the ages of 25-30.

However, he still has a lot to learn, primarily his attacking movement and crossing, something Brendan Rodgers’s fluid setup demands, especially when they choose to play with a back three. He does have a relatively low percentage of successful tackles at around 41% with a high percentage of fouls. All this can only further develop with more playing time, allowing instinct to set in with natural comfort, both with and without the ball, something he is definitely assured of with a pro-youth manager like Brendan Rodgers. At a height of 181 cms (or around 6ft), he has a great advantage in aerial duals; one which he uses well, but far from his maximum potential, and will definitely need to hit the gym to add a bit more core strength to help combat powerful strikers on the prowl such as Andy Carroll, again something which only time can improve.

Having surprisingly been out of even the U-21 picture for so long, a ticket to Brazil, or even an England call up seems unlikely with an abundance of fullbacks already vying for places on the plane, but nevertheless he is one English star to watch closely in the near future. On the whole, Jon Flanagan looks to be a shining star for the future of Liverpool, in a campaign which has produced many. He hasn’t completely held down a starting place just as yet with Jose Enrique still injured, but nevertheless, great things are in store for this Liverpudlian held in high regard by Brendan Rodgers and the Kop.

There’s just something incredibly inspiring about watching a young boy play for his hometown club, inspiring the club’s next generation of heroes, something Flanagan himself may have felt about Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carrahager. Who knows perhaps in a few years we may see him don the famous captain’s armband like the aforementioned locals; a true dream come true for every youngster who grew up supporting his hometown club.

Expert Talk

“Jon Flanagan –– nerveless 18-year-old debutant from 2011 –– is the Liverpool player who never should have been. Unremarkable as a kid, he was not on the radar, never mentioned as one to watch. He took his unexpected chance well, but then faded away again. Brendan Rodgers could be seen on the 2012 documentary Being:Liverpool telling him he wasn’t an attacking full-back, in what seemed a euphemism for “you’re not very good”.

Flanagan returned to the side this season in an emergency, and did very well, even in an unfamiliar role on the left. His game is defined by thunderous tackles, the kind that observers thought died out with Stuart Pearce. He’s lucky to not have been sent off several times by now, but his place in the team is down to pure hard work, not mere fortune. He’s not the quickest, and technically limited compared with most modern full-backs, but he overcomes this by being calm in possession, picking the right moment to pass, and never given up on anything; and thus can hold his own in a Rodgers’ side.”

 — Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins), Author & Writer, The Tomkins Times

“Jon’s progress this season, in many ways, mirrors that of his side. A forgotten man as recently as October, he has taken his chance to establish himself as a regular since. Whole-hearted, but very much under-rated as a footballer, he has been one of THE success stories in a season of success at Anfield.”

— Neil Jones (@neiljonesecho), Journalist, Liverpool ECHO

Interested in reading more Scout Reports on the best youngsters from across World football? Head this way. Check out Jon Flanagan’s SoccerWiki profile as well.

Nikhil Krishna

Nikhil Krishna

Obsessed with tactics, in love with Chelsea and AS Roma and their captains #JTcaptainleaderlegend & #Notottinoparty
Nikhil Krishna

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