If you hadn’t been paying attention to Middlesbrough last season or the first half of the current campaign in the Championship – and let’s face it – most people don’t pay much attention to Middlesbrough – you won’t have seen how good Adam Johnson is.
A graduate of Middlesbrough’s fantastic youth academy, many Boro people have thought for many years now that Johnson is the very best players the club has ever produced.
Indeed, when Martin O’Neill bought what outsiders thought was the club’s greatest asset in Stewart Downing, there are plenty who thought he bought the wrong winger. This will be proved in the second half of this season as Johnson lights up the Premier League.
Downing is mentally fragile. He disappears for long periods as anyone who saw Villa’s dreadful game against Spurs at the weekend can attest. That was a typical performance. He will throw one of those in every three or four matches. He manages to become almost entirely invisible, only reappearing when substituted.
While he has some pace, he’s not lightening quick. His greatest asset is his crossing but frankly, you wouldn’t want to bet anything valuable on him delivering regularly. It was only being left footed that got him in the England squad.
Johnson on the other hand has genuine pace. He has better close control, he has vision and better still, scores goals – 11 in 24 in the Championship this season. When Downing was the main man at Boro, he seemed to be held back. Her went out on loan to Watford and did really well. But Downing was always in front of him when he returned. As soon as Downing was sold, he really came into his own.
He now seems a confident lad who won’t hide the way Downing does. All of this was immediately on display last night in Manchester City’s game against Bolton where he as easily man of the match. He can beat defenders and draw fouls. He’s got a good shot on him and can drift right and left.
A couple of seasons ago he was a skinny, lightweight kid and was too easy to knock off the ball. Now he has grown into a broader, stronger man and looks the part. His only real weakness is he’s very left-footed, if he can do something other than stand on his right foot, then he’ll be the finished article.
If you’re looking for a dark horse to go to the World Cup, look no further than Adam Johnson. Capello has already singled him out as being ‘very, very good’ and a left-footed player is always an asset for any squad looking for balance.
With Walcott as busted flush, Lennon injured, Shaun Wright-Philips too small and too inconsistent, come May, Johnson might look like the answer to both the right and left side of midfield. There’s always one man who breaks out of the ranks before a World Cup, I’m putting my money on it being him.