Johnny Phillips
Football Commentator & Columnist

Liverpool's Jon Flanagan tells Johnny Phillips about his first team ambitions

Flanagan: Ambitious to be a Liverpool regular

"The young boy is not bad. For us that is really encouraging as well because it is a reflection of the work that is being done at the academy and if we have a strong academy it can only benefit us for years to come."

So said Kenny Dalglish, then Liverpool manager, after a 3-0 home win against Manchester City in April 2011, when asked to reflect on the debut of an 18-year-old local lad, Jon Flanagan, who grew up just a short walk from Anfield, on Utting Avenue.

"What shouldn't be underestimated is the importance to supporters of having local lads breaking into the team."

Johnny Phillips

"I lived about 500 yards from the ground, you could hear the roar of the crowd on my doorstep," Flanagan told me.

His elevation to the first team was celebrated. Since the departure of Jamie Carragher at the end of last season, Steven Gerrard has become the only Scouser in the first team. Flanagan was one of the academy graduates who was tipped to carry on the club's proud tradition of promoting local talent.

But injuries to both knees during the 2012/13 campaign ruled the full-back out for a frustrating length of time and he quietly slipped down the pecking order.

Now, the youngster is back and is desperately keen to get an opportunity in Brendan Rodgers' team.

Flanagan, now 20, realises he must start playing football again.

"I need to play first team football," he said. "I need to be playing regularly so I'd take the chance to get out on loan. Playing for Liverpool again is my biggest target but if it doesn't happen I think I need to get out on loan and show people what I can do."

He is highly rated and a number of Premier League and Championship clubs are tracking his progress.

One of his biggest fans is Chris Lawler, the right-back who played over 400 games for Bill Shankly's great side, who believes he is one of the most natural players he has seen in that position.

Important

What shouldn't be underestimated is the importance to supporters of having local lads breaking into the team.

Unlike clubs like Arsenal, who fielded a team full of foreigners several seasons ago, Liverpool and Everton represent a city which is less diverse in its make up.

Local ties are stronger than in the capital. The same could be said of Newcastle, where local talent is feted more readily.

Flanagan started out playing schoolboy football for St Francis Xavier's College in Woolton. The city has always been strongly represented at schoolboy level but the advent of academies has diluted the strength of schools football.

"That was a great thing for my development, playing schoolboy football. It helped a lot," Flanagan said.

"When I signed for the academy I had to stop that which is understandable. But representing the city at schoolboy level gave me the first taste of competitive football."

Academy

Last season Frank McParland, the director of Liverpool's academy, showed me around the club's facility and it was impressive to see the work being done there.

But even academies have to rely on talent from outside their city boundaries and abroad as the competition becomes ever fiercer in the Premier League.

A look at Liverpool's transfer activity before the window shut illustrates that the first team is becoming ever more cosmopolitan in its outlook.

Alberto, Aspas, Cissokho, Ilori, Mignolet, Sakho, Moses and Toure have strengthened the squad considerably - but this is the way the Premier League operates now.

Future

However, there will come a time when Gerrard retires and unless the likes of Flanagan can force their way back into the first team, that could mark the day Liverpool has no local representation in its first team.

Fans wouldn't object if the team was winning titles, but it would be that bit better if they could do so with somebody in the team who is one of their own.

"The history, and the fact that you know so many people in the city, maybe puts a bit more pressure on you as a local lad," Flanagan added.

"But the support is great. Family have been with me since day one and they were the ones that took me to training as a kid, it's been great for them that I've broken through, I just want to go on and play some more now.

"It's always important to have local lads in the team. We've seen that with Gerrard and Carragher. But it's becoming more difficult for young local lads to push through as teams do go abroad and buy players.

"But if you are 100 per cent committed you can get there."