On Michael Johnson

Twenty-four. It's no age at all. The same age as Micah Richards (230 appearances and a dozen or so England caps), a year older than Academy contemporary Daniel Sturridge (already with two high profile moves and 40 goals behind him) and not that much older than Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere, both ensconned in the full England set up. Whilst Michael Johnson should still have a 10-12 year career ahead of him with City arguably set to enjoy an unprecedented and sustained period of success. Medals and caps beckoned, but instead a career lies on the scrapheap.

The news was made official this week shortly after this photo did the rounds showing Johnson as a puffy and bloated figure. City had bought Johnson out of the remainder of his contract some months previously, both club and player effectively giving up on his time at City, and in Johnson's case perhaps football for good.

Johnson, over the course of seven seasons since making his debut for City in 2006/07, made just 54 appearances (45 for City and nine on loan at Leicester) with 35 of these coming in the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons. It is quite conceivable that 54 appearances may not even constitute a single seasons worth of games for the modern Manchester City. Time though, you sense, will do little to dim the memory of Johnson of a player, and more specifically the player he potentially could have been.

And what a stylish player he was. So simple and unadorned, graceful but effective nonetheless. The goal against Derby in this compilation perfect evidence of this. Think of the midfielders City have had since his debut; Stephen Ireland and Elano, through to David Silva and Yaya Toure. The imagination doesn't have to be stretched to picture him roving alongside any of them and I would argue still that City have not had a player of his ilk in the side since; the capability of being a true box to box player, capable of playing what is a more familiar term in a hockey: that of a two-way forward.

There have been certain blogs around long enough to have reported on a myriad of comebacks, only to be extinguished at yet another setback ('its the hope I can't stand') and Johnson really did suffer cruelly from injuries. These weren't minor injuries or even serious (and sometimes lengthy) injuries which with modern advances can be operated on and the player return at full strength.

The extent to which the effect these had cannot be underestimated (and this tweet from Paul Lake will resonate with most I'm sure) and whilst even the staunchest Johnson-ite would concede his culpability in certain regards and the way he is reported to have conducted himself at times was far from the professional standards required, but how much were those actions driven by what must have been terribly debilitating injuries and situation to deal with him? Certainly Sven-Goran Erikkson believes this to be the case.

Many have been quick to judge since the news emerged but what effect can those injuries have had? To be out for so long, battle your way back for it be snatched away once more. One can only wonder what this must do to your psyche, in particular for a person; a young man, already contending with underlying issues. I don't know him so it is of course speculation as much as anything but in this piece in the MEN Johnson acknowledges mental health issues and that he has been attending the Priory Clinic in relation to this.

Even if Johnson had regained his fitness and form, would his career at City have been rekindled? The manner in which Sven-Goran Eriksson enthused about him is legendary (supposedly betting journalists with regards the number of England caps he would win) but as Daniel Taylor wrote in The Guardian both Mark Hughes and latterly Roberto Mancini believed he did not have the 'personality' (a nod to his now known issues?) to make it at the highest level.

His time away from the pitch also coincided with the beginning of City's ascent and the first flushes of the riches that would help them transform from the club where he first broke through as a teenager to that which became Champions of England. Maybe the final comeback when he scored against Scunthorpe painted a picture: overweight and the sparkle from his early days missing.

Maybe he would have still prospered away from the club, and maybe he still can. There will be those who will always hold out the hope and the world of sport is littered with 'what if' stories and who believe time can still be on his side. Surely though, even if his will is strong (and it likely is the furthest thing from his mind at present), his playing career is surely finished.

What will linger though are the images: Johnson gliding through the midfield, a clever exchange of passes, hitting a crisp, clean shot. Memories of course remain. In Johnson's case they will have to suffice.

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