18-year-old John Flanagan was a surprise inclusion in the Liverpool side that faced Sunderland last Saturday. With Glen Johnson out with a hamstring injury, Dalglish chose Liverpool’s Young Player of the Year, Flanagan over the older and more experienced defender Martin Kelly demonstrating the sort of faith Kenny has in the home-grown youngster.
The teenage right-back has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Liverpool’s first team after making his debut in the Red’s 3-0 victory over Manchester City in April. He was so impressive in keeping Man City’s strike force quiet that he was able to keep his place for the last seven games of the season and was then rewarded for his fine performances with a new four year contract in the summer.
Flanagan may have had a difficult game on Saturday up against the impressive Sebastian Larsson but this will only help him develop as a footballer. He has had some moments of uncertainty for Liverpool, including giving away a controversial penalty against Spurs last season but this has to be expected from an inexperienced youngster. The good news for Liverpool fans is that he has age on his side and should only improve with first team football. He looks unfazed by the pressure put on him by Dalglish with some mature displays last season and if he can cut out the errors out of his game it is possible he could soon be worrying Johnson for a starting place and not just at Liverpool.
He has already been called up to the England U19 squad and can expect further national honours in the future. If he can fulfil his potential at Anfield, he might just be the long-term answer to the right-back weakness for England. With no obvious second choice to Johnson in the national team, it is possible we could see the right back position dominated by Liverpool players, highlighting the strength of Liverpool’s academy.
The youngster may have been guilty for some inexperience in recent matches but it is time to lay off the criticism as how often does an impressive young English right-back come through in the Premier League? It is one position where England are seriously lacking and hopefully Flanagan will be the long term answer.
He has versatility in his game with the ability to play at left back, despite being right-footed, and even in midfield as he recently in Liverpool’s pre-season friendly against Valencia. This means he is likely to get more game time this season even when Johnson returns from injury, giving Liverpool options across the pitch.
He has already followed in the tradition of the tough tackling Scouse defender Carragher who worked his way through the youth setup to become such a vital player at Anfield. If Flanagan can take on Carragher’s mantle in the future and achieve what the England international has in his career then it is understandable to see why hopes are so high for the Liverpool youngster.