Liverpool haven’t had much luck with full-backs over the recent years. The pair of Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique on their best day had some promise, but injuries and inconsistencies took their toll, as first Enrique, and then Johnson too, became rather unreliable.
But back to the start of that (in)famous 2013/14 season, both of them missed the start of the campaign, and Brendan Rodgers was forced to deploy Jon Flanagan on the right and Aly Cissokho on the left. And while Cissokho immediately stuck out as a poor solution, Flanagan did quite well, and when Glen Johnson regained his fitness, he was immediately put back into his own position and young Flanagan was shifted to the left.
To the surprise of many, yours truly not least, he kept improving with each game, making 23 appearances in the league and 25 overall as Liverpool played their best league season in a long long while. It was truly a remarkable feat for such a young and inexperienced player to nail down a starting spot in a line-up boasting players like Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and of course, Steven Gerrard. It was the beginning of the end for Jose Enrique, and the Spaniard never regained his place on the left defensive flank. Not for one moment did Flanagan look out of place surrounded by such quality, performing much like the other talented youngsters at the time – Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. He even scored a brilliant goal as the Reds thoroughly thrashed Spurs at the now-demolished White Hart Lane, and impressed particularly in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford.
The most notable praise for the young Liverpool full-back came from one of the all-time greats in the game, the former Brazil captain and World Cup winner Cafu, who spoke about his “speed, strength and determination”, even stating that he “has everything required to be one of the best full-backs in the world”. This has inspired the fans to name Flanagan “the Scouse Cafu”.
But after the season of bliss, the woes began. In the summer of 2014, a build-up of fluid in his knee made him miss a part of the pre-season and he was scheduled to return sometime in September. However, it was not to be. In the middle of the month, Rodgers confirmed that Flanagan had undergone corrective surgery on his left knee and would miss several more months. He eventually returned to the pitch in the charity game at Anfield on March 29th 2015 where he played 30 minutes, but scans afterwards revealed new problems, and in April he underwent another knee operation, ruling him out for at least six months more. That summer he was given a 12-month contract extension in order to be able to focus fully on his recovery without the pressures of employment uncertainty.
Two months into the reign of Klopp, Flanagan returned to full first-team training. Towards the end of January 2016, he first made an appearance coming on as a substitute after 49 minutes against Exeter City in the FA Cup, and then started the game and played 105 minutes in the League Cup semifinal against Stoke City. His performance on the day was of such quality that Klopp named him his own Man of the Match.
He made 8 appearances in all competitions during 2015/16, and at the end of it he signed a contract extension keeping him at the club until 2019. In August however, the club confirmed that he would join Burnley on loan for the 2016/17, in order to get more minutes on the pitch.
For one reason or the other, the move seriously backfired, and Flanagan made only 10 appearances in all competitions for Sean Dyche’s team.
Now he’s coming back to Liverpool, at a moment when the left-back position seems to be the thinnest one in the Reds’ squad, and it is up to Klopp to carefully consider and decide whether Jon Flanagan has a place anywhere in there.
His performances and the situation he was in at Burnley suggest – no. That the overall quality of a player that couldn’t get into the starting XI at Burnley is of insufficient level for Liverpool is a very valid point, but on the other hand, after the injuries he suffered, it would take a very long time for their effect to wear off, and to write off a 24-year-old player that has shown glimpses of brilliance would perhaps be a hasty move.
The fans aren’t usually very forgiving and for them a player is only as good as his last performance. Therefore, the result of this Twitter poll is hardly surprising:
What should #LFC do with Jon Flanagan?
— Vesko Trajković (@VeskoTrajkovic) May 31, 2017
But for Jurgen Klopp it’s certainly not as easy a decision as it is for the fans, and the German is sure to have a good long talk with the player and give this matter a lot of thought before deciding on the best course of action for all parties involved.
Whatever the final decision turns out to be, I’m sure everyone connected to the club in any way will wish for Jon Flanagan to finally be the player he was once promising to become. And if it happens in a Red shirt, all the better.