Jon Flanagan says he is over the confidence dip that threatened his Liverpool career -- with a little help from Brazilian legend Cafu.
The full-back, 21, was losing his way at Anfield after going 17 months without making a Premier League appearance.
But Flanagan has become a regular for his club over the last four months, to the point that his manager Brendan Rodgers is touting him as a future England international.
The defender feels that he has finally managed to put behind him the early nightmare performances that led to his long spell in the wilderness.
He struggles were highlighted during the 2012 documentary Being: Liverpool, in which Rodgers publicly reined in the defender’s attacking instincts with the put-down: “Stay behind the ball. You’re not the one bombing on for fun, Cafu.”
Yet Rodgers’ quote has started to work to Flanagan’s advantage, with fans taking to calling him the Scouse Cafu.
The nickname came to the intention of the real Cafu – the former Brazil and AC Milan full-back – who commented on Twitter in early February that he would be watching more Premier League football to check up on the Liverpool defender.
Flanagan told LFC TV: “Just to see a tweet off Cafu, someone I’ve looked up to, a brilliant right-back all his life for Brazil, AC Milan and that.
“For him to comment on me like that is just amazing really. You think: Is it real? Did he tweet that? It’s a great boost for me.
“Some fans call me stuff. Some fans call me other stuff. But for him to notice me and say he’s going to watch is just brilliant.
“He’s a legend in the game. I hope I can keep improving and maybe one day reach the top like he did.”
Flanagan has had to fight just to play regular Premier League football again. Having broken into the first team in April 2011, the Liverpool-born defender was judged to be at fault for Sunderland’s goal in a 1-1 draw at Anfield the following August, and spent much of the season back in the reserves.
As he began to fight his way back into the senior side, another poor display at Blackburn in April 2012 looked, for almost a year-and-a-half, as if it would be his last league game for the club.
The defender told LFC TV: “I think I’ve matured a lot more. I’m more confident going out there now.
“Maybe I lost a bit of confidence when I had a couple of bad games -- maybe Sunderland at home, in the first game of the [2011-12] season. I probably had a bit of a dip in form.
“So it was important just to get over that.”
Flanagan’s long wait for a league return finally came at Arsenal in November 2013, when he was called in at short notice when right-back Glen Johnson pulled out with a facial infection.
And aside from the month he spent out of action with a hamstring injury collected just before Christmas, the youth-team graduate has been a regular since.
He said: “Just to be back involved and around the squad, playing, gives you a big boost.
“I’ve had a few injuries and didn’t think I’d get a chance. I was probably at the back of the pack last year.
“So just the fact that I had that faith shown in me, and getting into the side, is brilliant for me.”