Tragic tales of wasted potential sadly purvey every inch of Premier League history.
Sadly, we spend precious little time thinking about those talents who couldn’t find the extra mile, who were ignored, neglected, or overlooked, those who were struck by injury, or just fell out of love for the game. If we did, however, ex-Manchester City prodigy Michael Johnson would be the main topic of conversation.
Johnson was a special player. Not just because he was gifted at kicking a ball around, which he was, but because he represented the ‘traditional’ Manchester City; the local, working-class club loved by a comparatively small core of fans; those who had experienced moderate success but were contempt nonetheless. Indeed, it is a period of time that induces welcome nostalgia amongst the long-term faithful, and for that reason the players who represented the club at the time have been immortalised as cult heroes.
It wasn’t long after Stuart Pearce handed Johnson his debut at the tender age of 18 when the plaudits started flying in for the man Sven-Goran Eriksson dubbed “England’s next big star” (as per Telegraph).
As far as we can remember, the youngster played in a similar style to Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard; a real box to box player, who was naturally gifted at defending, scoring goals and creating chances. He was aggressive in his play yet, rather paradoxically, conducted himself with an admirable level of collectiveness rarely found in youngsters.
Unfortunately, however, no amount of talent can protect a player from the unrelenting grasps of injury and Johnson suffered a fair few of those – including problems with his hamstring, double hernia and knee. The midfielder also had to contend with crippling mental health problems off the field.
“Pressure affects everybody, but people deal with it in different ways. We all have different skill sets, whether it is football or any job, and I don’t think I had the best skill sets to deal with it,” he said (via Telegraph).
“That was part of the reason why I wasn’t able to make the most of my ability, along with the injuries.”
“People in the game sometimes forget that footballers are humans, but, unfortunately, it is a macho industry, so it was difficult. Football is a hard environment and people deal with it in different ways. Some love the structure and thrive on the pressure. But other people, introverted people, maybe don’t like it or embrace it in the same way.
“It affected me in a negative way and it is one of the reasons why I opted to get out of it, to help myself.”
Mental health has become a more prominent conversation in the modern game, but Johnson remembers there were few opportunities to discuss his own struggles at the time.
“Mental health was a real taboo subject in football then, the game didn’t know how to deal with it, but people are more aware now. If I was going through my problems at a football club now, it maybe would have been different because other things are in place now.”
Despite retiring in 2013, Urmston-born Johnson holds the record as the last Mancunian to start for the Sky Blues in a Manchester Derby.
Indeed, not since Johnson’s appearance in City’s 1-0 victory over United in 2007 has another player replicated his success, and with local lad Phil Foden sitting on the wrong side of the contentious ‘is Stockport Manchester?’ debate (it’s not) it will be some time before someone steals his record.
Manchester City fans, how fondly do you rememebr Michael Johnson? What are your favourite memories? Join the discussion by commenting below…