Sunderland has underachieved much of this season and are one of the teams, based on predictions made in the summer, performing well below their expected level. Winger Adam Johnson might be the most prominent of the underachievers. Johnson has gone from frequent England selection and Premier League Champion to the outhouse in a short period of time.
The Sunderland native has become less reliable with time for both club and country. After transferring from Middlesbrough to Manchester City in January 2010, Johnson was a sensation with his pace and trick moves in wide areas. He quickly emerged as a regular for Roberto Mancini’s side and was strongly considered by Fabio Capello for England duty in the 2010 World Cup despite being uncapped at the time. Capello called him in for a friendly right before the World Cup but ultimately did not take him to South Africa.
The 2010-11 season saw Johnson play a prominent role in the City team, beating out the club’s prodigal son Shaun Wright-Phillips for significant playing time and establishing himself as an England regular. But suddenly at the pinnacle of his power, Johnson began to fail.
Since the player did not exhibit the work rate defensively Mancini relished, he eventually became a late-game sub or simply a rotation player. The decision of the Italian Manager to play James Milner, an unnatural winger in Johnson’s role throughout the fall of 2011, arguably elevated Milner’s status for England while diminishing Johnson’s. In this period, Johnson also enhanced his reputation for diving as his frustration at lack of playing time often came out when he was on the pitch quickly going to ground to get calls and to try to create goal scoring opportunities for his club.
Sold last season to Sunderland, Johnson was wasted in Martin O’Neill’s negative setup and while he showed improvement late in the season under Paulo Di Canio, he was still far from the player that had wowed Manchester City and England fans a few years earlier.
This season the player really struggled until this week when he influenced the outcome of the League Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United and then the 4-1 victory at Craven Cottage against Fulham.
Johnson’s hat-trick on Saturday against Fulham was certainly noticed by Roy Hodgson whose World Cup plans have been disrupted by the untimely injury to Arsenal winger Theo Walcott. With England in bad need of a winger that can influence a match, perhaps Johnson will fit the bill if he continues to perform at the level he has this week?
Ultimately the desire to counter-attack quickly may lead to the selection of Andros Townsend or someone of that profile to replace Walcott in the 23-man squad. But Johnson can give himself a shot with continued strong play while helping his side, the club he’s supported since he was a boy escape the drop.
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