Nial Coulter from Northern Irish fanzine Happy Days tells us the craic about our new boy from Burton…
Sunderland are wasting no time in laying foundations for the upcoming League One campaign. The latest capture is defender Tom Flanagan, who signs from fellow relegated side Burton Albion. Flanagan is a tall defender whose build makes him look taller than he actually is. He reads the game well, is strong and good in the air.
Flanagan was born in London, but signed a youth deal with MK Dons, breaking into their first team in the 2011-12 season. As his name might suggest, he has Northern Irish ancestry and his league form earned him a call-up to the Northern Ireland under-21 squad, making his debut v England in November 2012.
The following couple of seasons saw Flanagan rack up a number of loan deals before signing for Burton Albion in the summer of 2015. By November, he had established himself in the starting line-up as The Brewers finished the season as runners-up to Wigan in League One.
Burton’s keeper during that season was none other than fellow new signing Jon McLaughlin. So, a clever piece of business by Jack Ross in pairing together the backbone of a team that has experience in getting out of this division before.
Promotion to The Championship saw Flanagan retain his place in the Burton team that defied the pundits and survived relegation on the last day of the season. His performances caught the eye of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who called Flanagan up to the senior squad for the end of season friendly with New Zealand and World Cup Qualifier with Azerbaijan. Tom started and played the full 90 minutes of the New Zealand friendly, putting in a resounding performance and helping keep a clean sheet.
Contract negotiations that summer at Burton broke down, perhaps led by agent hype that his now ‘international cap’ client deserved a better deal. Flanagan was released and started last season without a club before eventually re-signing for Burton in September. This would, however, cost him a regular starting place and his place in the Northern Ireland squad.
Sunderland seems a great move for him; a chance to shine once more in a division he knows well in front of a keeper he is familiar with. All being well, a recall to the Northern Ireland squad could follow.