With the 2014 World Cup less than three months away, the countdown is on for England boss Roy Hodgson’s squad announcement. One position that is drawing plenty of attention is the left back spot, as Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw chase their places on the plane to South America. All three have strong cases, even if Cole has been out of favour at Chelsea.

But, interestingly, none of those three candidates can claim to be playing regularly in a title-chasing side. Enter Jon Flanagan, the Liverpool youngster who has been thrust into the first team this season by boss Brendan Rodgers and has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He has made the left back spot his own at Anfield, ensuring that future England bosses will have even greater headaches with their squad selection.

Flanagan, a product of the Liverpool youth system, has quickly become a crowd favourite. In a squad packed with overseas imports, from Brazilian Philippe Coutinho to Dane Daniel Agger to Ivorian Kolo Toure, Flanagan is the local lad in the Jamie Carragher mould who brings the passion and Merseyside connection.

His rise has been steady, from a reserve team debut as a 17-year-old to a first team appearance a year later, in April 2011. That said, he has had to wait for his chance, with last season providing limited opportunities to show his worth.

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That all changed this season, with Rodgers describing the defender as a “revelation” and confirming that Flanagan will be offered a new contract. The Reds boss added: “It's great when you see a young player develop like that. You can see the confidence he has now. He has made himself an important member of the squad.

"If he keeps his focus and keeps working well he can do that. He was only born in '93, he's only very young, but his performance levels are so mature.”

He has certainly not shied away from the big game pressure, impressing in the 3-0 victory at Old Trafford and combining gritty defensive attributes with an improved touch at the other end of the pitch. Liverpool have worked their way into the thick of the title race after a rocky beginning to 2014 – and Flanagan is gaining priceless experience alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. He has even been dubbed "RedCafu"by Liverpool supporters and received a nod from the great Brazilian on Twitter at the weekend.

Flanagan’s emergence comes too late for an international call-up this summer – but he looks to be on the path to an England career, whether that be at left back or right back. However, there could be a race for his allegiance since he is also eligible for the Republic of Ireland.

And the 21-year-old’s progress has not gone unnoticed amongst his team-mates.  

“I am happy for Flanno”, defender Martin Skrtel explained. “Obviously last season he wasn't starting games and it wasn't easy for him. He's a good lad and he's showing now he's a great footballer as well. He's one of our best players.

"It's no different whether he's playing on the right or left side; he's doing his job and enjoying his football. I hope he can stay fit, stay in form and continue with the performances he's shown up until now."

Rodgers deserves great credit too for trusting Flanagan initially, then sticking with the youngster even once the likes of Toure, Aly Cissokho and Mamadou Sakho regained full fitness. The Liverpool manager has flipped the script this season for a club that have struggled to consistently compete for the title – and much of the success has come from pulling the very best from squad members that did not feature prominently last season or before Rodgers’ arrival on Merseyside. Joe Allen and, in particular, Jordan Henderson have blossomed into their roles over the past six months.

As the title race heats up – and the Reds prepare for visits from Chelsea and Manchester City – much depends on the Suarez-Daniel Sturridge strikeforce firing on all cylinders. But look for Flanagan to continue to show his worth, keeping opposition wingers at bay and venturing forward at every opportunity, just as he did in the recent 4-0 demolition of Tottenham. With Champions League football a certainty for next season, the youngster will have a big part to play as Liverpool gradually climb back towards the top of English football. Who knows? This could be their year.

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