What happened to that young lad with that 60s blond hair cut? What happened to that player who reminded everyone of that great city legend Colin Bell with his irrepressible runs, incisive passing and excellent striking of the ball? What became of that potential we all knew he had? All questions that hopefully will be answered soon, as Michael Johnson returns to first-team action for Manchester City and straight back into the England Under-21 squad for the games against Portugal and Lithuania.
For although he scored a great goal after coming on as a substitute against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup in a 5-1 romp, not much has been seen Johnson since he burst on the scene a couple of years ago. An abdominal injury, which kept him out for a large part of last season, has threatened his entire career but he has slowly been on the recovery path with a long rehabilitation programme over the pre-season period.
Since his rise to prominence a lot has changed at Eastlands, managers have come and gone, but most importantly, the arrival of the Arab millions has been the most dramatic. When he broke into the team, City heavily relied on its youth system to provide the players needed during a time of tight financial constraints, now with billions in the owners’ pockets, Johnson has found himself way down in the pecking order. Behind new signings such as Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Shaun Wright Phillips and his fellow youth compatriot Stephen Ireland, Johnson will struggle on his return to break into a team of stars.
This is far from the times when his performances in light-blue when getting comparisons to Steven Gerrard. Both footed, excellent distributor and raiding from box to box, a new star had been born, and large sums were said to have been offered for the player from Arsenal and Liverpool. The stomach injury however put pay to any ambitions of superstardom, an imbalance in stomach muscles led to him being in great pain, making it difficult to train and even harder to play. Question marks over his fitness led many people to assume he had lost focus, but this career threatening injury had taken its toll. The lengthening of muscles in the abdominal area during hard work outs has now hopefully finally fixed the problem and now he can look forward to a long and successful playing career.
His goal against Scunthorpe has hopefully sparked his great resurgence, and now fully fit he can now realise the potential everyone in the game knows he possesses. Stuart Pearce, the Man City manager who gave him his debut, knows better than anyone the class of Johnson, and has provided him with a great chance to reignite his career. The Under 21 game will be great indicator of where he is at in his recovery. Pearce said “Michael Johnson has had a massive absence from injury for a long, long time, so being in the squad will be a big lift for him.” A great lift for Johnson, Manchester City and for all City fans.