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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Captain. Leader. Legend. Can Aden Flint become Bristol City’s John Terry?

Amidst all the celebrations on the pitch at Wembley last Sunday, and as closely bonded a team as this bunch most evidently are, one player seemed to take a little bit of a lead, be the one who got the fans cheering the loudest. One man seemed to take on the mantle of being the leader of the pack.

It wasn’t club captain, Wade Elliott, or the vastly experienced Aaron Wilbraham. It wasn’t even boss Steve Cotterill, who generally allowed his players their well-deserved moment in the sun on their own.

No, this figure was a man maligned by many during his first year at the club. A still young player who suffered a torrid time full of own goals and gaffes that threatened to end his City career before it had really started with the blame of relegation ready to be heaped around his shoulders moreso than any other. Indeed, before the start of the season there were considerable question marks over whether he would even be in the first-team squad.

But on Sunday evening, Aden Flint marched around the pitch with a flag draped over his shoulders, Caeser-esque. He is the side’s biggest and most formidable figure and standing by the side of the goal, standing arms aloft in front of the noisiest bunch of fans, holding the giant trophy easily in just one hand. He looked every bit a natural leader.

When Sam Baldock left a couple of games into the season, some, buoyed by an impressive early couple of appearances, suggested Flint be made captain. I argued against this, suggesting the timing was wrong and he had to continue concentrating on improving his game. I stand by that – he wasn’t ready and needed the distraction like a hole in the head.

Now, the chances are that if old, tired legs get the better of Elliott and Wilbraham next season, Korey Smith will be given the armband as he has this year when both the elder statesmen have been the other side of the white line. But in Flint, City now has a good old-fashioned leader of a centre-half more than ready to take on the role of captain and the leader. He may, in time, even become a club legend. With bravery, strength, a goal scoring knack, commitment and sheer toughness, he certainly has all the attributes.

Whilst he may not be the captain, Flint has certainly been at the heart of the most significant run of results of the season, during February and March, where City have put clear daylight between themselves and the chasing pack at the most critical stage of the season.

Six goals in ten games is a great record for any player – for a centre-half it’s immense! But it’s not even really a surprise, as in the preceding few months many balls had hit the woodwork or sailed just over. Flint has been winning balls in the opposition area all season but recently has managed to direct the ball a touch more accurately and is reaping the rewards, as are City.

The way he out-muscled the Walsall defence at Wembley was seized upon by Steve Claridge in the BBC highlights commentary and is beyond argument. This is what Flint has been doing for months now. That natural fire, his desire to do well, his willingness to put everything on the line for his club is what has marked John Terry out for a decade. Flint is showing considerable signs of being able to do the same.

But his defending has been equally impressive, marshalling the back line with an ever-growing maturity, organisational ability and game awareness. He’s equally as good at the defensive set-pieces as he is when on the attack.  I sense he’s dropping off further and further behind the back two in open play, reading the game with more astuteness and being able to time those runs to go and meet any aerial challenge with aplomb. And this is what has really made him what he is today.

He appeared almost mentally a little ill at ease when he first arrived, perhaps still feeling the effects of the barmy Paulo di Canio period at Swindon Town, or maybe just feeling the pressure of a big fee, and Cotterill seems to have recognised this and made his job immensely simple.

You can tell he’s been told to sit between Luke Ayling and Derrick Williams and go and win anything that comes in the air. Anyone who has played youth park football has had an earful for letting the ball bounce – a century-old error which causes carnage in many a good defence – and Flint simply makes sure it doesn’t.  Simple stuff, with excellent results.

Goals always skew opinions of players, even amongst top coaches. Goals get players in international squads even if the rest of their game might not be as strong as others in their position. But big centre-halves get put under immense pressure, especially away from home where City have spent much of last two months, and Flint has responded in totality. Heading away ball after ball, clearing set pieces, having confidence to drop a full ten yards behind his fellow centre-backs and sweep up anything that moves. His disciplinary records tells its own tale. A solitary yellow card in around 50 games shows phenomenal self-control and positional excellence for a six-and-a-half-foot tall defender. 

During this time he has developed almost a cult following amongst the fan base. His tattoos and general huge size add to mix and help to make him a favourite with some of the female supporters, whilst the “Aden Flint’s having a party” chant has grown and grown in popularity over the past couple of months, culminating in assistant boss John Pemberton tweeting it from the team bus after the Wembley success!

Heading into February the Bristol Post ran a poll on City’s player of the season so far. Three players were clear, but Luke Freeman and Korey Smith had the edge over their giant team-mate. One suspects if the same poll were run right now, Flint may well have done a City, and gone clear of the chasing pack. That’s despite Freeman being arguably the league’s best player (yes, that includes you, Dele Alli!) but Flint’s popularity has never been higher, his form never better, and he could just be leading City back to the Championship from the back and the front.

Further tests lie ahead, of course. The Championship - should we get there - will offer tests far tougher than Flint has faced this season. Pacier strikers in particular who will attempt to get in behind him and get him running back towards his own goal.  But for now, he reigns supreme.

When I posted a photo of him on Facebook after the Wembley win and suggested the leadership mantle might be heading his way, someone likened him to being the new Louis Carey.  I countered by suggesting he could be the new Shaun Taylor, before a further respondent nailed it.

He said simply, “he’s the first Aden Flint.”

The Exiled Robin

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  1. Flint was imperious durng the game and even has his own Pinxton fan club (from Derbyshire)following him - who by the way were in full voice in a nearby Wembley establishment before the game. He looks like the real to me and i hope he can progress the club even further. Good article. Martin Stalley

    1. Last season it was bambi on ice, this season its aden flint the rock, he came he saw he owned it, club captain i think so, fav player at club possible, other teams hate him we love him, he used to be a builder lets build our team around the rock aden flint, and we can all join his party


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