Human beings are essentially quite simple creatures, who follow depressingly predictable behavioural patterns. Children, whose obnoxiousness is not met with censure will become odious adults with a dangerously flawed grasp of social mores; Similarly, even in the most admirable and driven youngster, a surfeit of reward in relation to achievement will result in a diminution of ambition and impetus.
When money, that most coveted of mankind's desires, enters the equation as the reward in question, that relationship between the youngster and their initial goal becomes very warped and distorted indeed. Were one to seek an environment in which to examine the deleterious effects of Mammon on unbearded youth, then the world of professional football is a perfectly teeming petrie dish of excessive remuneration and blunted purpose.
There are, thankfully, exceptions to the rule; youngsters whose passion to succeed in their chosen field is not tempered by vast material wealth. Such young men are rare in football. The talent, at that point, is a given. It is the application of that talent, the attitude of the player to his work, that makes the difference in the late teens. That application can be massively impaired by a contract which effectively sets up an 18 year old for life. Hunger tends to become sated, ambition wanes and drive diminishes.
In Jon Flanagan, Liverpool seem to have a youngster whose attitude, despite possibly wavering a little, is once more quite properly focused on furthering himself as a footballer. When Flanagan broke into the team under Kenny Dalglish, he showed the kind of hunger and enthusiasm for his work that makes fans cheer and suits open chequebooks. He received a lucrative contract and then, as is often the way, faded dramatically.
Fans were concerned that the young Liverpudlian would go the way of so many other once-promising talents and end up forging a respectable career in the lower leagues. Indeed, when he did receive a rare chance to appear in the first team, the twenty year old seemed to have lost all that verve and tenacity that had marked his early appearances. it was easy to make a case that he'd fallen into the pattern outlined earlier. His hunger, they said, had gone.
On the back of his recent run in the team, at left back -- not his natural flank, lest we forget -- Brendan Rodgers is keen to point out that Flanagan has shown impressive resolve in turning things around.
"A couple of years ago, when he got in the team at 18, he was very good and he got a big, new contract," Rodgers explained. "That is the problem with young players in this country. We pay them to fail and then they just drift away and you never hear of them again. I've told him, 'Just play every game as if you haven't cracked it, and just be the best you can be.' That's what he's done. He has worked incredibly hard, every day, and shown me he deserves a chance. That is why he is in the team."
Rodgers, a man who has spent so much of his two decades in coaching working with talented youngsters, knows the pitfalls associated with excessive rewards. He is well versed in the psychology of the aspirant footballer and has bitter experience of seeing many gifted young men fall away from the game.
"I have seen it so much with young players," Rodgers lamented. "You see these young boys play one or two games, they get handed these incredible contracts and it goes downhill from there. When they reach 22 or 23 years of age, you hear people ask, 'What has happened to so and so?' The biggest thing that distorts the reality of footballers is money. If we are going to help young footballers, you have to protect them and not give them big contracts. You are seeing young players who are multi-millionaires and, no matter what you say, it takes the edge off them."
Flanagan so impressed his manager with his goalscoring display at the weekend that Rodgers comically suggested he'd be in the running for an odd trinket the Northern Irishman called the Ballon Dior. Despite the fact that this spherical high-fashion bauble does not exist, one could easily understand the manager's sentiment. In a classic piece of Rodgers-speak, Flanagan was referred to a "real good boy" who "has worked hard every single day" and displayed the "right attitude." Long may it continue.