x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Jon Flanagan has found his footing at Liverpool

Jon Flanagan has been the surprise success story of Liverpool’s season. But go back a few months and he seemed their fifth-choice right-back .

Jon Flanagan, left, is giving Liverpool fans plenty of reasons to get on their feet and cheer. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
Jon Flanagan, left, is giving Liverpool fans plenty of reasons to get on their feet and cheer. Paul Gilham / Getty Images

In the directors’ box at White Hart Lane, Kenny Dalglish produced the sort of beaming smile that normally followed one of his own goals.

In a post-match interview around 20 minutes later and utterly unprompted, another of the great Liverpool No 7s turned his attention to a young teammate.

“Flanno scored and I am happy for him,” Luis Suarez said in his improving English.

“Flanno” – otherwise known as Jon Flanagan – has been the surprise success story of Liverpool’s season.

Go back a few months and he seemed their fifth-choice right-back after Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly, Andre Wisdom and Kolo Toure, who played out of position there against Southampton.

Now with the regular left-back Jose Enrique injured, he has leapfrogged the France international Aly Cissokho, a summer signing from Valencia, to excel in his secondary role.

And, breaking forward from defence, he connected sweetly with a controlled half-volley that flew into the Tottenham net.

It was his first Liverpool goal, the third in his club’s 5-0 thrashing of the London club.

It was a particularly popular goal among the visiting Merseysiders in the away end, who included his father, John, and two of his uncles.

Lifelong Liverpool supporters share certain memories. The younger Flanagan was part of them when Rafa Benitez’s side beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp in 2007.

“I was like any other fan when John Arne Riise and Craig Bellamy scored, jumping about everywhere,” he said. “Even though we were up in the gods, the atmosphere was special.”

So when Flanagan scored, it struck a chord.

“All the fans can relate to Flanno,” said the watching captain Steven Gerrard.

The down-to-earth end to a memorable day illustrates why. Flanagan returned from London in time to get a pizza and watch the television highlights of the game.

Born in Liverpool on New Year’s Day, 1993, he was one of the homegrown players championed by Dalglish during his second spell in charge.

His debut came in a 3-0 win over Manchester City in April 2011, and he won the club’s Young Player of the Year award that season.

Playing alongside boyhood heroes such as Gerrard and Jamie Carragher represented a prize in itself.

“To be able to say I played on the same pitch as Stevie and Carra is amazing,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “It’s every local lad’s dream to pull on the red shirt.”

Yet, after his heady start, the following campaign proved rather tougher for Flanagan and Dalglish alike.

The defender’s nadir came in April 2012 against a Blackburn team including his uncle, Bradley Orr.

He was substituted after just 25 minutes because the goalkeeper Alexander Doni had been sent off but also because a floundering Flanagan was risking a red card himself with some rash challenges.

It proved his last Premier League appearance for 19 months. It threatened to be his last.

Flanagan was not among those favoured initially by Brendan Rodgers. Nor, indeed, was there any great clamour for his services elsewhere. Only Leeds attempted to take him on loan, a bid that failed.

The truth is that few recognised his potential.

“Jon Flanagan is not someone who was a superstar in the youth team or the reserve team but Brendan Rodgers, credit to him, has given him a chance,” Carragher said. “And he has taken it.”

When Johnson was ruled out of the trip to Arsenal on November 2, Flanagan was chosen.

While Cissokho struggled on the other flank, he acquitted himself well, convincing Rodgers to swap him to the left when Johnson returned.

It was a reward, Gerrard felt, for his excellent attitude. “He made Brendan give him that chance,” he said. “He earned it by working hard. He never complains, just gets on with it.”

Flanagan continued to impress in major matches. “He was man of the match at Everton,” Gerrard said. “And he had [Aaron] Lennon in his pocket” at Tottenham.

Carragher retired in the summer but he remains a sounding board for a younger Scouser, texting him advice.

Scoring, however, was neither his specialist subject nor, until Sunday, Flanagan’s.

Asked recently to nominate his finest goal, he selected one for a team called Country Park in the Walton and Kirkdale League in Liverpool.

Like his fortunes, that may have changed.

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