Manchester City's Adam Johnson waits in the England wings

20 February 2010 05:41
For the past two decades, supporters of the England national team have often pondered what might have been had Ryan Giggs not just represented England schoolboys but the senior side.

Looking back over the past 20 years, England have struggled to find a left-winger of quality. Joe Cole, Trevor Sinclair, Steve McManaman have done the job at World Cups and Euros. All of them are right-footed. Not since Italia '90, with Chris Waddle and John Barnes, have England had a left-footed winger of genuine international class at a major tournament.

 Related ArticlesManchester City v Liverpool: previewCity swoop for Ben HaimSport on televisionLiverpool's reality check as victory in Europe falls flatPremier League tablePremier League fixturesThat's where Adam Johnson comes in. He's left-footed winger who not only can dribble at pace but hits an accurate cross and specialises in the dead-ball.

England's persistent problem position might just have found a solution.

Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, claims Johnson moves like a young Giggs and there's no surprise as to which player Johnson models his game on. "Definitely Giggs, without a doubt," he said. "Anyone who has watched football for the past 10 years would know he's probably been the best player in England.

"When I was growing up he was my hero. I had all the videos. He's been a lot of winger's heroes over the years, I'd think, and for the manager to say that. it's an honour to be likened to someone like that."

Mancini has surprised the doubters with his willingness to throw Johnson into the team. The deadline-day signing was met with baffled curiosity by many: why would Mancini spend £8 million on a 22-year-old Middlesbrough player who he had never seen in the flesh (and who would be available free in the summer anyway)?

The implication was that he was the club's signing, rather than the manager's, and that Mancini just had to go along with it.

Whatever the truth, Mancini has clearly taken to Johnson. And no surprise.

He made his debut as a substitute against Hull and did so well that he made his full debut against Bolton three days later. He was named Man of the Match. The self-indulgent disaster that was Robinho, sulking at Santos, was swiftly forgotten.

Perhaps Mancini had been tipped off by his fellow Italian Fabio Capello. The England manager and his team have been watching Johnson for over a year, both for Middlesbrough and the England Under-21s.

Impressed by his talent, Capello felt the player needed to build muscle if he were to get the beating of the best full-backs. The way Johnson has handled his recent elevation to the Premier League, though, has opened the door to the World Cup squad.

"I hope I can make the next jump," he said. "That would be unbelievable for me to go to South Africa with England. That's what everyone dreams about. It's the biggest tournament in the world and the biggest stage.

" I want to play on the big stages. But I feel I've got to concentrate on trying to play as well as I did on my debut for City. If I do that, then hopefully I'll be in with a sniff of a call-up."

In the week leading up to Johnson's move to City, Capello described him as the "best player in the Championship" and picked him out as one of the players he would be seeking to integrate into his squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

"The move to City has accelerated things, though. If he keeps starting and playing well, Capello will call on him and there is an outside chance he will make the squad for the friendly with Egypt on March 3.

This afternoon's game with Liverpool will be his first test against one of the elite Premier League clubs since signing for City. Impressing against Jamie Carragher and Co would give Capello something to mull over during the World Cup coaching conference in South Africa next week.

Throughout all this, Johnson has retained a level-headed, pragmatic approach to his work. The ambition is there but it is not distorted by preening.

The decision to run down his four-year contract at Middlesbrough was not motivated by financial enrichment he would have waited for the summer if that were the case but the feeling that he needed to step up a level.

Still, he knew it meant taking a risk.

"Yeah, it was a bit of a gamble," he said. "Obviously my contract would have been up in the summer and I could have got injured or anything like that. I think that was in the back of my mind and when City came in, on deadline day, I thought life is too short to turn down that opportunity.

"I wanted to take the chance to play in the Premier League. I think you've got to try to play in it as long as possible and even six months seemed a long time to me. And with the World Cup coming up. stranger things have happened. so I thought 'why not? I might as well go. If I play well and there's a few injuries, you never know."

City were not his only option. Chelsea had been interested in signing him in the summer and there were reports, dismissed by Johnson, that he had been shown around Old Trafford by United officials. Even Real Madrid had reportedly shown interest. It was City's preparedness to spend £8 million in January, though, that swung it for Johnson.

"Knowing someone was going to pay that much money made me see City really wanted me. In the summer I could have had a lot more options but would the teams buying me have been doing so for the right reasons?

"Because I'd have been on a 'free', a lot of teams might have said 'we'll have him because he's English and we can put him in the Champions League squad because you need so many English players'.

"City put in a very good bid and it's unheard of for a club to put in a bid of that size for someone with just four months left on their contract. That was fantastic for me and made me feel I was going to a place where I was really wanted."

If Johnson was worth £8 million with four months left on his contract, that effectively meant City valued him as a £20 million-plus player. No wonder he's so excited about the future.

Source: Telegraph