What does the future hold for Jon Flanagan at Liverpool after his Burnley loan?
Liverpool is a city famed for its sense of community and its ability to produce working class heroes. The Beatles are of course the city’s most famous export, undoubtedly shaping the direction of popular music and western culture over the last fifty years.
However, closer to home, many a great footballer has also been produced there – ones that has gone on to take either Everton or Liverpool on to spectacular heights. From Dixie Dean to Colin Harvey to Robbie Fowler to Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, the list goes on, and could be extended to many others. It is always the local lads that the supporters are most proud of, feel the greatest sense of attachment to, and cheer the loudest for. It is instinctive. When one of your own makes the grade, we as football fans vicariously live out our own dreams of playing for our club through them.
Everton have always viewed themselves as the people’s club, and supporters can point to Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley as proof that their club remains committed to promoting local talent. However, across Stanley Park it is a different matter. Following the semi-retirement of Steven Gerrard last summer, Liverpool were left with just one Scouser in their first-team – Jon Flanagan. Hardly on par with any of the names in the aforementioned list, the full-back is nevertheless popular with the Anfield faithful for his dedication to the cause.
Despite the affection of supporters, Jurgen Klopp deemed it necessary this week to send the 23-year-old out on loan to Burnley for the season. The move has obviously prompted questions about Flanagan’s future, so can he still make the grade with the Reds or will the club’s last remaining Scouser be forced to make his name elsewhere when his spell at Turf Moor is up next summer?
It must be pointed out that the news came as no real surprise when it was announced on Friday, as Flanagan’s Liverpool career has stalled somewhat following an auspicious start. The zenith of his time at the club so far was certainly the 2013/14 season, when Flanagan made 23 appearances as the Reds, under the leadership of Brendan Rodgers went close to lifting the Premier League title.
His performances earned him a spot in England’s preliminary World Cup squad, but a knee injury picked up at the beginning of the following season left him sidelined for 18 months. All of his momentum was crushed, and although he returned to action earlier this year, and even captained his boyhood club against Southampton in March, he struggled to attain the level he was at two years previous.
Capable of playing on both the left and right side of defence, Flanagan has been forced to watch on as Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno consolidated themselves as Liverpool’s first-choice full-backs, and a loan move has been on the cards for months as he attempts to make a regular return to Premier League action. Burnley is certainly a good fit for him. Under the tutelage of the hugely impressive Sean Dyche, the Clarets have become renowned for being a cohesive unit, and were dogged opponents during their last Premier League campaign two years ago.
Furthermore, Dyche is an extremely good man-manager who extracts the best from young players. Flanagan’s Liverpool colleague Danny Ings can surely attest to this, as the 24-year-old excelled at Turf Moor under the management of the Burnley boss. Another key man for the Clarets during that relegation campaign was their right-back, Kieran Trippier, whose marauding displays were enough to earn him a move to Tottenham Hotspur. Flanagan will hope to follow in his footsteps, with the eventual hope that a good season in West Lancashire can propel him back into the Liverpool side.
It appears as though Klopp is hopeful that this will be the case too, after reportedly assuring the popular defender that he does still have a long-term future at Anfield. This is good news for Flanagan and Liverpool supporters, as the player definitely deserves the chance to prove himself again.
Amidst a footballing climate where players have no real loyalty to their clubs beyond their pay packet, the patent joy that Flanagan derives from playing for the club he loves is refreshing to see and if he can get back to the form he displayed in 2013/14 then it would be great to see him return to the Reds’ first XI.
He may not possess the attributes to be a really top-class full-back, something Klopp is acutely aware of, but it is important for clubs with a strong community identity such as Liverpool to have a local presence in their side. On this front, it is looking fairly desperate for the club, with the only Scousers to really make an impact at Anfield over the last fifteen years being Gerrard and Carragher, both of whom made their debuts back in the late 1990s.
Obviously the club should only promote youngsters on merit, and if Flanagan does not prove good enough then a manager as good as Klopp knows full well that the team cannot accept passengers merely due to the fact that they were born a stone’s throw from the ground.
An interesting season lies ahead at Anfield as Klopp takes charge of his first full campaign at the helm, and many supporters are right to be excited about what lies ahead. However, many on Merseyside will also be keeping a close eye on Flanagan’s progress at Turf Moor with the hope that he can transform himself into the player that he showed early signs of becoming.
Last October’s Merseyside derby was the first that Liverpool have not fielded a Scouser in since 1986, and whilst that is likely to continue this season, the potential departure of Flanagan next summer could mean the unprecedented situation of a Liverpool squad without a single Liverpudlian in it.
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