Glen Johnson: More than just a right back?

Glen Johnson has always been renowned for being a right back throughout his career. He started out with West Ham United’s youth team in 2000 and signed his first professional contract in 2001, aged just 16. He had a brief loan spell at Millwall before returning to West Ham and then eventually moved on in the summer of 2003 to join Roman Abramovich’s billionaire revolution at Chelsea. However, Johnson was only ever used as a squad member at Chelsea, often losing out to Paulo Ferreira for a place in the starting XI and as a result, he was loaned out to Portsmouth in the summer of 2006. He briefly rejoined Chelsea for a few weeks before heading back to Portsmouth permanently in a £4m deal.

His performances in a Portsmouth shirt began to turn heads. In October 2007, he scored a sensational goal against Wigan, after dribbling from the halfway line into the Wigan box. He went on to help Portsmouth win the 2008 FA Cup and in the following season, he lashed in a 30 yard screamer which won him both ‘Goal of the Month’ and ‘Goal of the Season’ awards.

Johnson’s reputation continued to grow and a huge part of this was down to the prominent attacking side of his game. He eventually earned himself a £17.5m transfer to Liverpool in June 2009 and went on to blow the Anfield crowd away on his home debut against Stoke, where he caused the Stoke defensive problems throughout the entirety of the game, scored a goal, made one and got man of the match.

So then, we fast forward three years to the summer of 2012 and Glen Johnson is still a Liverpool player. He has sustained a few injuries during his time at Anfield but whenever he has been fit, he has been our regular, first choice right back. He has deputised at left back on the odd occasion when the team has had injuries. Whether Johnson has fully repaid his £17.5m price tag as a right back though is arguable.

I have heard and still do often hear many people, including some of our fans, say that Johnson ‘can’t defend’ and state that he is only good at ‘getting forward.’ Is this true?

I’ll be honest, I did think that £17.5m for his services as a defender might have been a bit high because defensively, Johnson for me has never really stood out in a red shirt. He has however, stood out numerous times for his attacking play. He can be seen regularly bursting down that right wing, running at players before unleashing a shot at goal. This for me is Glen Johnson. He has scored a few important goals for us, especially last season’s superb solo effort in the 87th minute against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With ex reds Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles smugly believing they had joined a ‘bigger club’ and both being introduced as substitutes three minutes earlier in an attempt to steal all three points, most reds will agree that Johnson’s 87th minute winner was the highlight of his time at Liverpool so far.

The feeling after that dramatic game was just brilliant. Let’s face it, none of us are too keen on Chelsea Football Club, add to this the fact our Kop Hero Fernando Torres betrays us and leaves us for them, then Raul Meireles does the same, both come on with 6 minutes to go hoping to steal the winner and the Stamford Bridge crowd urge them on in strong anticipation, relishing the opportunity to rub it in our faces. So for ex Chelsea man Johnson to turn the tables with 3 minutes to go and steal all three points for us was fantastic, if ironic too. After that game, I believed his winner was worth the £17.5m alone. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But that statement raises the issue again. Is Johnson’s strength really at right back? Could we possibly try him on the right wing instead?

Considering Johnson’s attacking qualities and our shortage of wingers here at Liverpool Football Club, I personally am a bit surprised that no manager has explored this option. Fair enough, we haven’t got the greatest depth in defence to enable us to do this at all times but when everybody is fit, I don’t see why we haven’t given it a chance, even if it’s just for 30 minutes at the end of the game, especially when we are struggling for goals. Martin Kelly has proved on many occasions that he can put in a solid performance at right back so if he, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jose Enrique formed our back line, why not put Johnson on that right hand side of midfield? Maxi has left, utility ‘winger’ Dirk Kuyt has left, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson can do it but prefer to play in the centre. Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing are both also capable, but right midfield isn’t their favoured position either. Fair enough, it isn’t Johnson’s too but he has a very good right foot, he can dribble past players, make the runs and get us a couple of goals. The only part of Johnson’s attacking game that isn’t too great is his crossing and maybe this could be a factor to him never getting the chance in midfield, who knows. Too many times Johnson has burst forward, made a terrific run, got himself in acres of space and then blasted the cross high and wide over the goal and completely wasted the opportunity, so If Johnson ever was to play in midfield, I think he would definitely need to work on his crossing first and foremost.

Perhaps the problem would be the fact that Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson could clash on the same side of the pitch. Kelly, being very similar to Johnson, likes to burst forward down that right hand side and attack. If he was at right back and Johnson was in the right midfield area, perhaps they would leave each other open; i.e. both get forward, end up in each other’s way and leave the right back area vulnerable for the opposition to attack.

I have to say though, despite me saying earlier that Johnnson’s defensive performances have never stood out for me in a red shirt, I saw one game during Euro 2012 where he did; England v Italy in the quarter finals. The game itself ended 0-0 after extra time and obviously England went on to lose on penalties. How the game stayed 0-0 many people have asked. The answer, I believe, was Glen Johnson. His performance that night was superb. He did start brightly in his usual fashion, darting forward and having a shot which was saved quite early on but that for me wasn’t the highlight. He stood out as a defender that night. He made several crucial tackles, blocks and interceptions. Every time Italy attacked, it always seemed to be Johnson who was saving England’s skin. If Johnson can replicate that form in a red shirt and I hope he can, I would say that Johnson as a defender was worth every penny of that £17.5m and dismiss any suggestions of him playing in midfield.

Obviously, we will have to wait and see how he performs for us next season and who, if anyone, Brendan Rodgers signs.

Johnson is nearly 28 years old now so who knows, maybe we will see his best football in the coming seasons. Maybe his defensive performances will start to match up to his attacking ones, only time will tell. If not though, I think his strengths could potentially be utilised further up the field.
Of course, not everyone will agree with me on that, so feel free to offer your thoughts and opinions.

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