For a time he had fallen out of love with the game, out of favour at Chelsea after failing to convince Jose Mourinho that he could play for a team at the very top level.
Those were dark days for Glen Johnson, when Mourinho chipped away at his fragile confidence, making the talented defender the scapegoat at Stamford Bridge whenever results went against them.
It took a move to Portsmouth for him to recover, becoming the most consistent right back in the Barclays Premier League last season, scooping the club's player of the year award and breaking into Fabio Capello's emerging England team.
His performance in the 4-0win in Kazakhstan was by no means the best of his career, shaky in the opening minute and struggling to support the runs of Theo Walcott in the first half or Shaun Wright-Phillips in the second.
He knows that. But there is now a maturity about 24-year-old Johnson, something that was missing when he was at Chelsea.
He has shrugged off the elementary errors that characterised his career in west London to become one of the country's outstanding full-backs.
He had arrived at Stamford Bridge in July 2003 from West Ham, only 18 but with a price tag of £6million, the first signing of the Roman Abramovich era with Claudio Ranieri as manager.
Mourinho took over a year later and Johnson soon found himself behind the newly recruited Paulo Ferreira in the pecking order.
'There was only so much I could take at Chelsea,' he revealed.
'At the start I used to bite my tongue and bear it, but I couldn't show what I could do by playing one game in six weeks.
That is no good for anybody, especially at such a young age.
'The main difference for me is that Portsmouth made me love the game again. When I was at Chelsea, I used to tell my mates
''I'm paid to play football, but football is what I'm doing the least''.
'They knew my situation and were sympathetic. They are football fans but, at the same time, they are my mates and they felt for me.
'They were trying to keep my head up to get through it.
'There's a saying that what hurts you only makes you stronger. It definitely made me appreciate playing at Portsmouth. It's crazy really.
'I was frustrated every day at Chelsea, but Portsmouth brought the love back.'
Johnson was signed by Harry Redknapp, who put an arma round his shoulder in stark contrast to Mourinho.
As a young player, Johnson had found himself drowning in a sea of superstars at Stamford Bridge.
His move to Fratton Park was initially on loan in June 2006 but it was made permanent in 2007 for around £4m and since then he has gone from strength to strength.
He played in their FA Cup success in2008 and has established himself as first pick for club and country with another impressive season on the south coast.
'Harry Redknapp signed me and it helped to play week in, week out.
'That was one of the main reasons I signed for Portsmouth and it was just what I needed,' headded.
'We had a great bunch of lads down there and that was really good for me as well.'
Redknapp is now at Spurs and Johnson is also expected to be on the move again this summer.
Ironically, Chelsea have registered an interest, along with moneybags Manchester City, although a move to cash-strapped Liverpool is looking increasingly remote.
Portsmouth have yet to accept an offer from any of their Barclays Premier League rivals, but Johnson has a gentleman's agree ment with executive director Peter Storrie that he can leave if their valuation is matched.
'It will be a dilemma if a top club comes in for me,' he admitted, 'but at the moment I haven't got that decision to make.
'No-one has spoken to me and nothing's been said.'
On Monday morning he will concentrate on his international career again, resuming training at London Colney to prepare for Wednesday's gimme against Andorra after a nine-hour flight back from Kazakhstan's capital on Saturday evening.
England's players are suffering from fatigue, complaining that they struggled to adapt to a different time zone for such a short space of time.
'The manager warned us it wouldn't be easy, even though a lot of people thought it would be, 'added Johnson.
'But we haven't really slept for three days because of the time difference.
'All those things played a part, but obviously we just wanted to get the job done.
'It wasn't the best performance but the players were prepared for it.
'We know we can play better than that.'
Johnson certainly can, but he is thriving in the international arena again, collecting caps on the way to his first World Cup finals.
'Starting the past few games for my country has made me want to keep the shirt for as long as I can,' he added.
Now England are within touch distance of South Africa, he can expect to be a big part of it.