It seems Mark Hughes was right after all. Roberto Mancini’s autocratic style has claimed another victim, namely Adam Johnson. “Reports” emerged that he initially refused to get on the team coach after City’s win over Wolves in the Carling Cup, due to criticism of him in Mancini’s post-match interview.
Or maybe not. Many would have you believe that Johnson is being wasted at City, and that Mancini’s criticisms of him are unfair. On both counts, they are wrong. As was Hughes, on many levels.
It’s hard to claim that Johnson is wasted at City when he has improved as a player under Mancini’s tutelage. He was playing in the Championship at Middlesbrough, and was hardly the first name on the team sheet there, sometimes kept out of the side by Stewart Downing. His England appearances have tended to come since his move to City. As Mancini said this week, he criticises him because he knows he can do better, and because he knows what he is capable of, and this is his way of trying to push him further. I’m not totally sure it’s right to talk about players’ deficiencies in public, because as we saw with his coach protest, players are generally precious souls, but in Mancini we trust, as after all he knows the player and the situation far better than I or anyone else does.
“I am happy he is upset,” said Mancini this week. “I love Adam. It is like with the children in your family. If you love your children, then sometimes you should be hard with them and Adam understands this. I say what I want because, if he were not a good player, then I wouldn’t waste my time on him. But because he has everything, I don’t want him stopping at this level. I want him up a level and then a level more.”
The player who some claim is gathering splinters on the substitutes bench has appeared for City 54 times since he signed right at the end of January 2010. He made 43 appearances for City last season, and has featured 8 times this season so far. He is not the forgotten man that some would have you believe.
And if you want reasons for why he sometimes only appears from the bench, then the answer is there for all to see in the games he has started. Quite simply, he has not performed at the required level when in the starting eleven, with a tendency to disappear from games and have limited impact on proceedings.
From the bench, it is a different story, there being few players better at coming off the bench and putting the opposition to the sword. It seems he prospers against tiring legs, but if he wants to feature more he has to do it for 90 minutes, not 20. But it is something else that irks Mancini more.
With Johnson, the criticism from above has been that he is shirking his defensive duties, duties that are vital when you are a wide player that needs to support his full-back.
Mancini has said this week he was “disappointed he doesn’t put everything on to the pitch”. As he is right to do, Mancini expects it all from his players. He expects forward players to do their share of defending, in the same way he expects his full-backs to bomb forward.
In addition to all that, there have been concerns about his off-field activities and lifestyle – many a footballer has fallen in this trap, but Mancini is not the sort of manager to allow it, or to accept players that are not 100% focused on their football.
Nevertheless, his scoring record is beginning to look very healthy indeed. He scores quality goals, and often when they are most needed, making him a vital squad member. He is a wonderful wide player, the sort opposing defenders must hate to play against, with pace, close control, and as we have seen recently, a deadly shot.
A few years ago Johnson did an interview with Four Four Two magazine. The final question was:
In five years’ time…
I would like to be playing regularly in the Premier League and challenging for a place in the England team. So far this season things have gone well so hopefully I won’t be a million miles away by then.
And he isn’t. The future is Johnson’s to decide. If he wants to listen to his manager, the world is his oyster. At the age of 24, he has reached a crucial crossroads in his career. Knuckle down, and play for one of the best teams in Europe and at the highest level for club and country, or go on loan somewhere and gain more football at a lower level. The choice is his.