I remember it well. 21 August 2011. Wolverhampton Wanderers have beaten Fulham 2-0 with one of the most consummate displays of the Mick McCarthy era to go joint top of the Premier League. Admittedly it was only the second game of the season, but the future looked bright – a rather golden shade of orange to steal a rather irritating slogan.
Key components of the victory are two new permanent signings that were brought in to catapult us towards Premier League establishment – the newly-appointed captain Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara. How things have changed. The recent transfer-listing of the pair has marked a significant change in the status of the duo within the club.
Johnson was supposed to be the man who would add steel to a backline that had looked susceptible in the previous two campaigns when Jody Craddock was missing. Instead, Johnson’s severe limitations as a defender were exposed. At Birmingham he was used to a negative approach under Alex McLeish. The side was built around the solid foundation their defence provided. Stephen Carr, Scott Dann, Liam Ridgewell and Johnson would adopt a deep position on the field, urging opposition strikers to break them down. Blues were eventually relegated, but few pointed the finger at the defenders.
Asked to play a more proactive role in a more adventurous Wolves side, Johnson wilted. He had done little to endear himself to the supporters. Inevitable relegation was supposed to galvanise old Roger, who had become Molineux’s favourite drinking partner if you listened to the chants. But the return to form didn’t come. Some wishful thinkers in the crowd thought he had gotten better, but it was just worse strikers not capitalising on his inept defending. After a red card for the beanpole defender, young Academy product Danny Batth began to impress, only to be phased out by a Dean Saunders-inspired 3-5-2 formation against Cardiff to allow Johnson some redemption. This is what really enraged fans, and was the catalyst for the infamous ‘Shirtgate’ fiasco at Brighton.
As for Jamie O’Hara his stock has dropped even further since his heroic displays whilst on-loan. Unlike Johnson, O’Hara could fall back on misfortune with injuries. But he often seemed, to drag himself around the pitch resembling a middle-aged five-a-side footballer who thought he could replicate some of his former glories – without success of course. Part of me feels sorry for those who partnered him in central midfield, with the job of combating two opponents on their own it seemed. Karl Henry himself is seemingly on his way out of the club, but with him you cannot blame him for a lack of effort or application. O’Hara was often bypassed due to his lack of mobility, and the deep role he played under Dean Saunders didn’t suit him in the slightest. The tempo he played football with just wasn’t made for the Championship and he found it extremely difficult to adjust to the hustle and bustle of the lower division.
O’Hara’s coup de grace also came in the final game of the season, as fans somehow got wind of his near £40,000 per week salary. Jamie responded with what shall forever be known as a ‘gesture’. The final nail had been hammered into the coffin.
There will be very few at Molineux who will be sad to see these pair leave. But perhaps the saddest part could be that they will more than likely be dispatched to clubs with better prospects than Wolves at the moment, with the younger players left to pick up the pieces. But that is something we will have to live with. Gone are the days when footballers felt the genuine pain that besets the fans of clubs. As long as they can afford their after-training pint and a new pair of shoes for the Mrs everything is fine.