Upon completing his somewhat surprise move to Man City last January from Middlesbrough, I wrote an article on the site expressing my concerns about the move, as I felt it had the potential to stifle one of the country’s finest young talents, in terms of his development and ability to secure guaranteed first-team football.
Now let me explain myself here, Adam Johnson has caught the eye with some barnstorming performances for City over the past 18 months, but it’s hard to say that he’s nailed down a spot yet. I contested that I thought a move to a club of City’s stature was always on the cards for Johnson in the future, but that he may have missed out a crucial step in his career and may have run a rung or two up the ladder a bit too quickly.
Johnson has been involved in 20 of City’s 22 league games this season, not a bad return for a budding 23 year old, but he has started just 7 of these, come off in 3 of them, and made 13 appearances from the bench. This relative lack of action could be to the detriment of Johnson’s career, for he is at a crucial stage in his development and were he at a smaller club he’d be playing week in week out such is his mercurial talent.
There have been questions raised in the media over his attitude and work ethic in training and that Mancini expected him to be further along in his development by now, which was why I argued that Johnson’s career would have been best served at a smaller Premiership outfit first before a big move to a club like City.
He may also have fallen foul to two other aspects – competition for places and Mancini’s selection policy.
Competition for places for a club as rich as City looking to challenge in a short space of time is quite understandably rife. Johnson has to contend for a spot in the starting eleven with the likes of David Silva, James Milner and Mario Balotelli and to a lesser extent Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong.
This all brings me to my next point – Mancini’s selection policy. Mancini has a penchant for playing with 3 recognised defensive midfielders no matter the opposition. The side is very narrow and although Yaya Toure has been pushed further forward into a more unfamiliar attacking midfield role during his time at City thus far, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong are mainstays in the side behind him.
That leaves space for only 3 other players further forward, and with their main man Carlos Tevez taking up one, David Silva the other, Johnson seems to be in a straight fight for a starting place with both Mario Balotelli and James Milner for the one remaining spot, a fight Johnson doesn’t look like winning anytime soon. The arrival of Edin Dzeko is sure to complicate things even further for Johnson.
To force his way through, Johnson could do no more in an attacking aspect than he already has done, but it’s in his work off the ball where he can look to improve. Joe Cole, while at Chelsea under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho was once a peripheral figure until he realised that he had to do as much without the ball as with it to earn a regular place in the starting line-up.
Cole has since sadly regressed back into the fancy flick player incapable of keeping possession for long spells during the end of his time at Chelsea and his unsuccessful spell at Liverpool so far, but for a couple of seasons at Chelsea he became a winger of genuine class, combining guile with work rate and he reaped the benefits by becoming one of the first names on the team sheet for both club and country. Johnson should look to follow Cole’s model at Chelsea, for a manager of Mancini’s ilk is inherently cautious and defensive by nature, and if Johnson can start contributing in other areas of the pitch, his inclusion in the starting eleven will feel less of a risk and more of a bonus to the Italian.
He too has the role model at the club in the form of James Milner, a player who has carved out a career for himself not based on speed of thought or movement but by endeavour and commitment. I’d argue that had Johnson had to ply his trade at one of the Premiership’s lesser lights first, before a move to City came about, he’d have learned these valuable lessons a lot sooner, and until he learns that team shape and your defensive duties are just as important in the modern game as a fancy flick or a dangerous cross, then he’ll only hold himself back and that I’m afraid gives Mancini little choice to do other than that he is currently doing with respect to Johnson.