Making judgement calls is part and parcel of being a football manager. Knowing when to change formation or tactics during critical moments in a match is vital, but another aspect which is equally important, is player judgement.
The ability to know what to expect from your own players and to get the best out of them is equally vital, and the best exponents of man management such as Bill Shankly and Brian Clough have shown how it can work wonders on a football pitch. Before last night’s match against Manchester City, Kenny Dalglish had this to say about putting in some younger players:
“We have to be very careful. The Academy has progressed fantastically well over the last 18 months or so. We’ve got to be mindful of the fact that those youngsters need to be protected. They’ve played a lot of games at their level and if we are going to put anyone in, it won’t be a problem – but we’ll have to make sure we are sensible. The worst thing for us would be to put someone in and they have a bad game. That would be detrimental.”
Putting young players in at the right time is crucial as it can have detrimental effects on a player’s development if they are risked in the first team too early. Going into the City match I stated that it maybe a risk NOT to risk a youngster in the backline as I felt a backline with four centre backs would not stand up to the rigours of Manchester City’s attack. I genuinely thought that King Kenny would go into the match with Kyrgiakos & Skrtel at centre back with Carragher and Wilson in the full back positions as they had finished the West Brom match the week before, as I felt he would stick to his comments on not risking the youth too early. Still I felt that playing either John Flanagan or Jack Robinson would be the way to go as it would give the Reds the mobility which would be needed against City.
I was pleasantly surprised then when I saw the team news that Flanagan would start against Manchester City. It was certainly a risk to play the 18 year old even though he has shown his capabilities in the Under 18s and reserves over the last couple of years, but his great display versus the Blues last night was testament to his own abilities as well as the judgement of Kenny Dalglish.
Us Reds fans have been blowing the trumpet for bringing through some of the youth prospects for a fair few months since it became apparent that the league campaign was not going to be a successful one. It seemed an ideal time to try out a few younger players. Still, only those at the club really know whose ready and who isn’t, and Kenny played his hand superbly last night. With his comments prior to the game, he took the pressure off the younger players, and did not give any indication that he would give them a try out, but when he opted to give John Flanagan his debut, he ensured that he was ready for game by taking all of the heat off him by letting him know how he wanted him to play, and also not allowing a big build up in the press by announcing he would be playing only two hours before the match. Flanno stated:
“Kenny was giving me advice, telling me not to be nervous and to get on the ball, do what I do and keep it simple. That helped me a lot. I was obviously nervous – first game against Man City, a big team. But I just tried to get the job done and we got a good win.”
Flanagan did everything which was expected of him last night. Great credit must be given to the work the Academy has been doing over the last couple of years and also for Kenny for knowing when the right time was to put the player in the first team. Although he wasn’t directly up against a left winger, he was assured on the ball, making a fantastic diagonal ball in the first half to Fabio Aurelio as well as showing his great tackling ability on Gareth Barry in the second period. Dalglish took all the pressure off the youngster, and the player performed to his best.
It was his first game so there is still a long way to go, and he is still learning, but it is good to see a young player who was not overawed and showed he was not out of place at the highest level.