The path to Merseyside from Southampton is becoming rather well-trodden. After the moves to Liverpool last year of Saints’ trio Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert, Nathaniel Clyne has followed suit. Brendan Rodgers clearly hasn’t been dissuaded by the underwhelming starts to life suffered by Clyne’s triumvirate of ex-St Mary’s Stadium colleagues at Anfield, from continuing his plundering of the progressive south coast outfit. In his judgement on the England right-back, Rodgers is likely to be proven correct. In fact, following his scattergun assault on the transfer market with the proceeds of Luis Suarez’s move to Barcelona ahead of the 2014/2015 campaign, Liverpool’s boss is staking his reputation on his freshest batch of recruits. To return to the most recent home of three of last year’s motley collection of buys for his latest purchase could be viewed as an unnecessary punt by the Northern Irishman, given that none of Lallana, Lambert and Lovren has shown they have the tools to make the leap to playing under the harsh glare of the Kop, so far. Clyne, however, is a different beast to those who went before him. The Londoner’s three forerunners, from disparate beginnings, all made their name in English football in the relatively tranquil environs of St Mary’s. For those three men, the switch to Anfield constituted a first jump out of their on-pitch comfort zone – albeit Lovren did have to adapt to a new country, when he signed for Southampton, having previously plied his trade in Croatia and France. For Clyne’s part, when he left his first club, Crystal Palace, in 2012, he chose to make an incremental step up to then newly promoted Southampton. The full-back, who described himself as ‘overwhelmed’ at his Saints unveiling, arrived in Hampshire fresh from being named in the previous season’s Championship team of the year. His attacking ability, one-on-one defending and pace, were all identified by Southampton’s then incumbent manager, Nigel Adkins, as attributes that the player would develop further as a Premier League footballer. And he has done just that, a feat that has required a degree of belief and mental strength on Clyne’s behalf. The 24 year-old was an instant hit at St Mary’s, steadily taking his game on to the level that won him a first full-international start for England against Slovenia last November. On the eve of that World Cup qualifier Clyne promised: “I’ve been given my chance now and I’m going to make it count.” The defender was as good as his word, delivering a composed, nerveless performance at Wembley, one which earned him another outing in the furnace of Hampden Park three days later, for a friendly fixture against Scotland. I is a measure of Clyne’s maturity and self-professed confidence that he was, once again, flawless in his display north of the border. Things haven’t necessarily all gone the Liverpool new-boy’s way since he forced his way into his national team’s reckoning. Just last month, he was said to be disappointed to be benched for his country’s return clash in Slovenia; Clyne’s frustration then compounded when, following an injury to his replacement, Phil Jones, Roy Hodgson preferred to introduce Lallana into the action and ask Jordan Henderson to fill in as an auxiliary right-back. Hodgson indicated after the match that nobody, ‘on the basis of a good season,’ could demand a place in an England starting XI. Nevertheless, there is something to admire in Clyne’s headstrong response to his sidelining. It is why you believe him when he says: “I am good enough to play for a team like Liverpool”. The flying full-back’s forthright attitude is completely at odds with the more deferential outlook last year’s Southampton contingent shared when they pitched up at their new home. Furthermore, Clyne carries his wider perspective on his game into his swashbuckling on-field endeavours. This is one ex-Saint who won’t be cowed by the responsibility of turning out for the five-time European champions.
Glen Johnson has been Liverpool’s first-choice right-back for the majority of the last six-years. Despite also filling the same position for England during a large part of that period, Johnson never really made himself an indispensable asset for club or country. Both Liverpool and the player they brought in from Portsmouth, reportedly paying the former Chelsea man a substantial salary to tempt him north, would have hoped for far more from their relationship than the single League Cup that Johnson won with the Reds in 2012. The 30 year-old couldn’t, by any means, be considered an Anfield flop. He just didn’t have the consistency or all round game to deliver what is needed for a team that has designs on top-four Premier League finishes and the accumulation of silverware. Injures were a factor in Johnson’s inability to establish himself as a Kop favourite, the Greenwich-born man’s frequent absences forcing Rodgers and, before him, Rafa Benitez, Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, into plugging the Reds’ right-back berth with an assortment of figures, some relatively successful, others, less so. Jon Flanagan made a good fist of the job in the 2013/2014 campaign, to the extent that he was placed on standby for England’s World Cup squad 12 months ago. A knee injury kept the Scouser out of action for the entirety of last season, however and, with Johnson’s appearances typically sporadic, Rodgers couldn’t settle on a reliable alternative; the manager quickly losing faith in another one of his summer 2014 recruits, the on-loan Atletico Madrid player, Javier Manquillo. The Spaniard was actually a victim of Rodgers’ tinkering, as the Reds’ boss sought to address his team’s sluggish start by switching to a back-three. With Liverpool imploding in the campaign’s closing weeks, and with minds seemingly scrambled at Anfield, Rodgers sent out Emre Can to play on the right of a back-four at Stoke City on the season’s final day. The young German was found wanting in the job, horribly, and was one of the main culprits – before being hooked off at half-time – as his team was crushed 6-1 at the Britannia Stadium. If anything good could come from such an appalling afternoon for Liverpool and Rodgers, it might be the realisation that their right-back issue couldn’t be allowed to continue any longer. Clyne is the complete package. He will instantly adjust to whichever formation his manager wishes to adopt and, crucially, he will bring genuine quality to the fulfilment of whatever task is thrown his way.
In keeping with his straightforward manner, Clyne has never been coy about his ambition. His contract at Crystal Palace was up when he left Selhurst Park. Similarly, the Stockwell reared man’s Southampton deal was set to expire in 2016. He has not, therefore, kept his overriding desire to further his own career from either of his previous employers. Liverpool are crying out for men with Clyne’s substance and drive. After an unlikely, and eventually fruitless, tilt at the Premier League title in 2013/2014, things unravelled rapidly under Rodgers last season. Troublingly, there appeared to be an absence of characters in the Merseysiders’ squad prepared to take on responsibility for arresting the slide. By contrast, Clyne, as well as discussing his personal goals when the ink was drying on his five-year agreement at Anfield, wasn’t afraid to put his neck on the block by admitting that ‘there is room for improvement’ at Liverpool. An obvious statement, maybe, but not the sort you’d hear from many footballers on the day that their duties tend to be restricted to posing for photographs and espousing platitudes. When it comes to fitting into a Reds’ side that is going to have a different look to it at the outset of the next Premier League campaign, Clyne’s fearlessness will be invaluable. Regardless of a brief upturn early in the calendar year, Rodgers’ men were dogged by defensive shortcomings last season. Their new right-back’s aptitude and tenacity in that respect will be vital to Liverpool successfully confronting that particular problem. The difficulties at Liverpool in their first year post-Suarez weren’t confined to the team’s repeated aberrations at the back. There was a real dearth of creativity in Rodgers’ side in 2014/2015, which contributed to them scoring 49 fewer goals in the season than the 101 they struck in their valiant battle at the top of the table with Manchester City the previous term.
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