by Daisy Cutter
It’s not only on the wing that Adam Johnson is hard to pin down. Off it he’s a quiet, likable lad who is also (according to several accounts) fond of the Manchester nightlife and arrogant to boot. He appears a meek sort yet has repeatedly tested Mancini’s temperance to breaking point, receiving more open criticism from the Italian than Tevez and Balotelli combined.
He’s a firm fan’s favourite who divides opinion on the terraces, a dangerous impact sub with a pleasing habit of killing off tiring opposition with late strikes yet few call for his name when City are up against it.
With a propensity for playground dribbling he twisted and turned his way into becoming an indispensible part of City’s attacking canon following his £6m switch from Boro only to then become an ineffectual shadow of his former self throughout last season.
All of the above is contradictory yet every word is true and with patience beginning to wear thin the call goes out to this exasperating figure: will the real Adam Johnson please stand up. No, don’t get brushed off the ball, fall to the ground then make a half-hearted effort to track back. Stand up man.
There are no disputing Johnson’s qualities – he provides out and out width, can beat a man for fun and, like Robben, woe betide any full-back who shows him inside because his first thought is to drill it accurately into either corner. It can also be argued that – to an extent – the 25 year old Wearsider can be excused blame for his dramatic loss of form in 2011/12. Mancini demands uniformity and endeavour in addition to the fluid, passing fare and all too often last term Johnson cut a confused sight caught in two minds when in possession between doing what his natural instincts propelled him to produce and his manager’s stern directives. Consequently that split-second of indecision more often than not resulted in a defender sticking out a leg, groans from the stands and a stony stare from the bench. For this Johnson is deserving of some sympathy as he was on a hiding to nothing. The buoyant glee in taking on a player and his capacity for doing so is precisely why City bought him in the first place and why he managed to force his way into the reckoning often ahead of more expensive, higher rated team-mates. Now his manager was ordering him to curtail his gifts and become someone he plainly wasn’t.
But even with this in mind Johnson didn’t exactly make things easy on himself, hardly applying himself with determined vigour and allowing himself to drift out of games entirely for large spells. His tacking is woeful in the extreme but again this can be excused as it’s simply not in his make-up but unforgivably his work-rate was done purely for effect – a jog into the right areas rather than the scurrying harassment provided by Silva or Nasri in similar situations.
On a personal note, writing this as a fan of ‘AJ’, I lost count of the number of occasions last season where I wanted to slap him hard across the face at what I was witnessing. Here was a player so evidently hungry to prove a point yet was insistent on ambling around with the satisfaction of a man walking off the calories of a favourite meal. It is yet another contradiction from a player who has everything at his disposal to become a clear-cut star of club and country.
It became increasingly apparent as the year wore on that Johnson’s days at the Etihad were numbered and the feeling that he has blown his chances at winning further silverware in Manchester has only exacerbated with the summer gossip columns filling up with speculation. Predictably there have been many rumours circulating as to his future and according to other media it is Liverpool who are in the frame for his signature but it’s worth remembering that although Brendan Rodgers clearly likes to see both touchlines hogged he is no less demanding of his wingers as regards to putting in a shift. It is also notable that despite Rodger’s Swansea team receiving deserved praise for their Barca approach last term it was actually Manchester City who completed more passes than any other Premier League club in 11/12. So if Johnson is deemed incapable of merging his talents within such a slick passing side what hopes of him doing otherwise in a side being constructed in identical fashion at Anfield?
Another possible destination is the Stadium of Light and here there are many potential benefits not least the fact that Johnson would be returning home to the north-east. Additionally, and pertinently, Martin O’Neill is renowned for instilling confidence in previously lost souls and encouraging their freedom to express themselves. Under his avuncular guidance he resurrected Ashley Young and turned him into a Manchester United and England regular and could offer similar rewards for Johnson.
Conversely of course he might yet stay at City and continue to exasperate and dwindle in equal measure, being utilised ever more scarcely until the day comes when he is regarded as loan fodder.
Perhaps the request for the real Adam Johnson to stand up isn’t the point after all. Maybe it’s a question as to what will eventually become of whoever the hell he is.