On February 1st 2010, Manchester City announced the surprise capture of Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson, City manager Roberto Mancini’s head had been turned by Johnson’s star 30 minute cameo when the two sides had met in the FA Cup Third Round in January.
What had caught Mancini’s eye was Johnson’s unfaulting desire to take a full back on at every given opportunity and beat him often, pace in abundance, and a wicked shot. Not to mention that Johnson was only 22 years old, with his best football still ahead of him, and he could be had for all of £7million, a bargain in an era where Premier League teams pay absurd amounts for English talent.
Eyebrows were inevitably raised when a team contending for a place in the top four would splash the cash on a winger from the Championship, but on his full debut against Bolton later that month, Johnson was Man of the Match, the highlight being the moment he danced his way into the Bolton area before drawing a foul. City won the game 3-1 and Johnson was already being hailed as a future surefire England international, a rough diamond Mancini could shape into a flawless gem.
Yet here we stand, two and half years later, with Johnson on the brink of a move away from Eastlands, with the favourites for his signature currently being Premier League lesser lights Sunderland, with his place at the club soon to be occupied by the similarly unproven Scott Sinclair, how did it come to this for Johnson, a man who had the world seemingly at his feet? And can Sinclair succeed where Johnson failed?
Roberto Mancini gave Johnson every opportunity to succeed at the Etihad. City desperately needed a player like Johnson to spread the field of play, and use his pace to trouble defenders, and during the second half of the 2009/2010 season, Johnson played a part in every game until the end of the season and showed enough to convince City fans and Mancini that he was more than good enough at the highest level of the English game, yet by the end of 2010/11, as City clinched 3rd place and the FA Cup, Johnson was finding himself confined to the subs bench.
It turned out that Johnson was spending more and more time using his new-found fame and hefty Premier League pay packet to fund a lifestyle not conducive for a footballer to make it at the highest level of the game. He was more likely to be found drinking the night away at Tiger Tiger than working on his all round game on the training pitch. His performances suffered. Everytime Mancini dared put him in his starting XI, Johnson performed a superb magic act and vanished until he was substituted. He hugged the touch-line too often, offered little to no protection to the unfortunate full back happening to be sharing the same side of the pitch as him, and was sloppy in possession. If you want to play for Mancini, you better make sure you work your arse off on that pitch, but Johnson continued to play the role of black sheep.
Eventually, Johnson became little more than an “impact” sub during Man City’s march to the Premiership Title last season. His biggest contribution during that run in being scoring the sixth goal in City’s 6-1 rout of Norwich. His failure to crack the City first team meant he missed out on Euro 2012, completely of his own doing. Now it appears that his City career is over, a massive shame for both the club, the player and the England team.
Now it appears that his position will be filled by Swansea City’s Scott Sinclair. Sinclair may not be a fashionable choice to go join the Champions of England, especially as they pursued the world-class Eden Hazard earlier in the summer, but a move for Sinclair is actually a very shrewd move by Man City.
Sinclair is another young winger, at only 23 years old is still a few years away from his prime, but he comes from a system where a strong work ethic is necessary. During his time under Brendan Rodgers, Sinclair was a focal point in their short passing, ball control game, a philosophy that requires a strong work ethic and comfort on the ball. And now he will move into an environment where every time he steps onto that training pitch he will be competing with the likes of David Silva, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, world-class players that will force him to up his game. Facing such quality players worked wonders for Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott, two players who were treated with scorn and labelled as not good enough to succeed at the highest level. Yet last season, both were unsung heroes and excelled in helping City win the league.
Sinclair will get a chance to prove himself as well. City need a winger, as at home games, when the opposition put men behind the ball, City have no one to stretch the field, to take players out of the game and up the tempo. Now it is up to Sinclair to prove himself, and prove that he can succeed where Adam Johnson failed.
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