Johnson continues to make his case for England inclusion
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Adam Johnson only has to look as far as his Manchester City teammate, Shaun Wright-Phillips, to see how things could have turned out.
Wright-Phillips enjoyed six strong seasons at Eastlands as a City player, and his performances were so good that deep-pocketed Chelsea came calling in 2005 and lured him to London.
The winger appeared to be on course for inclusion in England's 2006 World Cup team, but he was a fringe player at a huge club like Chelsea and was left off the plane to Germany.
The 28-year-old has since returned to City and seen his England hopes improve, but it is another City winger, Johnson, who has done the most to secure himself a spot in Fabio Capello's England squad.
It is harder for Fabio Capello to ignore Adam Johnson with each passing week.
Johnson started this season at Championship side Middlesbrough, and he quickly established himself as one of the top players in the league with 11 goals in 25 appearances.
This put him on the radar of Capello, but he was also being watched closely by the City brass, who paid around $12 million to secure his services right before the close of the January transfer window.
Johnson's contract was up at the end of the season, but City obviously saw something that it liked in order to shell out that kind of money when the club could have signed him for nothing over the summer.
At first, it appeared that Johnson could be headed for a similar fate as Wright-Phillips, a young talent who was joining a huge club filled with established players.
After all, City already had plenty of scoring options with the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy, Carlos Tevez and Wright-Phillips, not to mention Robinho, who was in the process of sulking his way back to Brazil after being signed for a British record $50 million from Real Madrid.
It was fair to question how much time Johnson would actually see, especially since City boss Roberto Mancini had reportedly never seen him play in person.
But Mancini became a believer very quickly once Johnson stepped onto the field.
The 22-year-old made his debut for the club as a substitute against Hull City, and he performed so well that Mancini handed him a start in City's next game three days later against Bolton.
Since then, Johnson has started 12 of City's last 13 games, chipping in a goal and four assists and playing a key role in the club's march towards a top-four finish.
He has also made City fans forget about the disaster that was the Robinho signing. But it is another player who Johnson aspires to evoke.
Ryan Giggs has been a consummate professional throughout his distinguished career, and as a left-footed winger like Johnson, it is easy to see why Mancini has compared him to the Manchester United great.
"Definitely Giggs, without a doubt," Johnson told the Telegraph when asked about who he models himself after. "Anyone who has watched football for the past 10 years would know he's probably been the best player in England.
"When I was growing up he was my hero. I had all the videos. He's been a lot of wingers' heroes over the years, I'd think, and for the manager to say that... it's an honor to be likened to someone like that."
It is still early, but there are aspects of Johnson's game that clearly mirror that of Giggs.
Like Giggs, Johnson has a very smooth game that allows him to glide past defenders without the benefit of having blazing speed.
He is very calm and composed on the ball and always seems to make the right decision in the attacking third.
A perfect example came just this past Saturday against Aston Villa, a game that City needed to win to keep its top-four hopes alive.
With his team trailing 1-0 late in the first half, Johnson coasted into the penalty area on the right and drew a penalty kick on Villa's Stephen Warnock, setting up the equalizer.
Just a few minutes later, with the game still tied, he set up the go-ahead goal with a patient pass that was right out of the Giggs playbook.
Johnson took a pass on the wing and got himself into the penalty area in a position where most players would have a shot on goal. But instead, he cut the ball back to buy himself some time and slipped a pass through traffic to Adebayor in front of goal for a first-time finish.
It was a vital win for the club, and yet another example of why Johnson clearly belongs in the mix for a spot on the England team.
There are some major questions regarding who will take up a spot on the wing for Capello's side, but with David Beckham out due to an Achilles injury, at least one more place has opened up.
Players like James Milner, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young each have strong cases, while Tottenham's Aaron Lennon has battled injuries, Arsenal's Theo Walcott is not a regular in Arsene Wenger's lineup, and Joe Cole has had injury issues as well for Chelsea.
Although he has yet to be capped for England, Johnson would bring a different dynamic to the mix as a left-footed winger, and it is possible that Capello will give him a chance in May with England set to play friendlies against Mexico and Japan.
Johnson was not on Capello's provisional 30-man group for England's friendly last month against Egypt, but it is harder to ignore him with each passing week.
England fans have wondered for years what it would have been like had Giggs played for the Three Lions instead of Wales.
In Johnson, they may get to see the next closest thing.