For a while now Glen Johnson (featured in the lovely video below) has been bothering me.
Not in a prank calls, sending pizzas I didn’t order, hanging around outside my house way – more a slight nagging feeling. A memory of something in the darker recesses of my mind (a scary place) that wanted to come out into the light.
Then, whilst watching the Ukraine v England match it came to me. It came to me when Andriy Shevchenko (that fine example of why managers and not chairman should buy players) beat Ashley Cole for pace. Yes, you read that correctly. Shevchenko – beat Ashley Cole for pace.
The same Shevchenko who looked incapable for beating an egg during those wallet-lining years and months at Stamford Bridge.
It was then I saw it. Glen Johnson is Ashley Cole. Albeit a right-footed one – but also the Ashley Cole circa 2001.
This Cole was such a poor defender people toyed with the idea of playing both him and Wayne Bridge in the same team – so as to accomodate his defensive inadequacies whilst not missing out on his rampaging runs forwards.
Ashley Cole 2009 is no Franco Baresi (nor even a Paulo Maldini) but his defending has improved immeasurably since then.
Chicken & egg
With Johnson we are stuck in the chicken and egg situation. Should England invest more experience/caps in him in the hope that he will improve as Cole has? He has, after all, four years on his Chelsea counterpart.
I like Johnson, I want him to do well – same as I do any player in an England shirt – even the easily unlikable Cole. However, his defensive naivety is glaring even to the most casual viewer.
At one point in the match against Ukraine, after one of his many fruitless-forward-forays (rolls off the tongue nicely that) he was caught out of position as Ukraine counter-attacked.
Johnson had jinked inside onto his weaker left foot and lost the ball in the centre of the pitch. His team-mates are obviously ready for this and the defence all stepped across the pitch one place – which left England with Ashley Cole effectively playing centre-half and Johnson at left-back. Bizzare.
The result? A tame cross which would have been dealt with easily caused massed panic with everyone in unfamiliar territory. It ended with two defenders leaving it to one another and the ball bouncing just wide of the goal. In the World Cup a mistake like that could be the difference between progress and an early flight home.
I sincerely hope Johnson will improve his defending – that is after all why he is in the team. England do not need another candidate to be right-winger – there are already numerous candidates for the role.
At Liverpool, playing in the Champions League and fighting for the title he will find himself on a steep learning curve.
All that said, he will probably play a blinder tonight (against Belarus) and all his defensive mistakes will be glossed over again.
As it happens the best thing to ever happen to Johnson’s career could well be out of his hands. If France, Argentina and Portugal all fail to make the World Cup (as is a distinct possibility) he will be spared the task of facing Franck Ribery, Simão Sabrosa or the great Lionel Messi.
I know… the mere thought fills me with dread too.
P.S. I noted with interest that David James looks likely to miss the Belarus game through injury. Another opportunity missed for Robert Green. Thanks a bunch Rio.