Manchester City’s ‘sky-blue meat grinder’ transfer policy is seemingly set to claim yet another victim with winger Adam Johnson today admitting that he is beginning to entertain thoughts of leaving the club, despite having only joined from Middlesbrough a little over ten months ago.
City’s dragnet acquisitions policy inherently (and increasingly) creates a lot of surplus players and, as fresh meat gets forcibly crammed into the chute and pummeled through the chamber, more and more forgotten kernels of gristle and rind are left to be swept away to whichever club willing to feed on the scraps from the Eastlands table.
However, in Johnson’s case, it’s slightly harder to fathom his bit-part role in manager Roberto Mancini‘s grand scheme.
Although far from being the finished article, the 23-year-old possesses the raw pace, skill and effervescent energy required to quite literally change the flow of games in an instant.
Take, for example, the recent Manchester derby. As the game began to wallow, and City began to become increasingly withdrawn, Johnson was given 15 minutes by Mancini to prove his mettle – but the winger was immediately isolated and then suffocated by the Italian’s unwaveringly dour approach.
Such limited cameos are obviously beginning to grind with a player that can’t seem to marry his burgeoning international career with a stunted existence at club level:
“Every footballer has to think about it when the time comes. It is still early but I definitely would consider it.”
Speaking at the opening of a new sportswear superstore in Manchester city centre, Johnson also spoke of his disappointment over the lack of faith that Mancini showed in his attacking abilities on derby day:
“It is disappointing when you are not playing from the start in games like that. I was itching to get on. I was dying to play from the start not just come on.”
With Mancini continuing to deploy a three-man defensive midfield, Johnson has found himself regularly losing out to summer arrivals James Milner and David Silva for inclusion in either of the two wide berths that flank Carlos Tevez (when fit) in the Italian’s rigid 4-3-3 formation, and feels he is in danger of being branded as a ‘super sub’ at City and nothing more:
“The manager has to make decisions but I was gutted to be left out. With the players we have it will be a rotation, but I am full of confidence and I just want to be playing.
I have got to train and get on with it, nothing is going to change. I have to keep the right frame of mind and get in the team because I want to play for the national team as well.”
Continuing to dig himself into a hole, Johnson also hinted that Mancini’s cautious tactics do not particularly serve to make the most of the stellar phalanx of attacking players that he has at his disposal:
“A lot of the players are attacking-minded players and want to attack. But I think what has been important to the manager is getting the shape right and working on our defensive shape.
It has been about not conceding goals first and keeping clean sheets and then maybe nicking one.”
Much as it is sad to see such a genuine English prospect congealing on the bench at City, you can’t help but feel that the certain degree of naivety Johnson has displayed in his unguarded responses to a fairly arbitrary line of questioning may have just seen him slip down further in Mancini’s estimations.
Speaking last Friday, Mancini himself delivered a fairly telling critique of his young charge, revealing that he doesn’t believe that Johnson has the necessary discipline or maturity to operate within his fixed system:
“When you are young you read the newspapers and think ‘I am the top, I am the top’. But Adam Johnson is a young player and doesn’t understand the game very well.
I think he can improve a lot more if he thinks more when he plays. He’s a good player but he’s just 23 years old, he’s played 20 games in the Premier League and it’s impossible to think of him now as a top player.
For this, he must work, he must think, he must work for the team, not two dribbles, two crosses. In a top team you need more. If you’re only doing two dribbles you can’t be the best player on the pitch.
You must do dribbling, score a goal, you must defend, you must help your team-mates. There is more expected of him.”
Which goes an awful long way toward explaining the Italian manager’s reluctance to view Johnson as anything other than an ‘impact substitute’.
May it’s just my English hyper-sensitivity talking, and Mancini’s non-native viewpoint may actually be much more realistic, but I just can’t bear the thought of one of our national side’s most exciting young prospects going stale on the sidelines at any club – regardless of their prestige.