Johnson must beware a return to the Blues bench

Portsmouth defender could risk his development by rejoining Chelsea, writes Ian Herbert in Almaty
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The Independent Football

It's hard to believe that Glen Johnson would resist the allure of a return to Chelsea should Carlo Ancelotti come calling. Even despite his insistence, in the dimly-lit corridors of Kazakhstan's national football stadium late on Saturday night, that he is "a Portsmouth player and will be [in the future]."

It seemed to be a qualified declaration of loyalty from the 24-year-old. Asked if the offer of Champions League football next season would place him in a quandary, he said: "I haven't got a decision to make. No-one's spoken to me, nothing's been said as far as I'm concerned."

But the events which had just taken place on the turf outside revealed why continuing his Fratton Park career may serve him better than satisfying Chelsea's current desire for a more substantial young English component in their ranks.

The Johnson who raced past Zhambyl Kukeyev after 71 minutes to set up Wayne Rooney for England's third goal is arguably the nation's most exciting wing-back operating down the right flank; one who provides a dimension which has won World Cups for both Italy and France and will be invaluable in South Africa next summer. The individual whose half-dozen balls conceded in possession led Fabio Capello to bring Shaun Wright-Phillips to right-back in the second half is one whose game is still developing.

"Johnson had some problems," Capello said yesterday, when discussing that decision to make that switch and the risk of warming a Chelsea bench, as Johnson did before Portsmouth offered him an escape from Stamford Bridge two summers ago, may not be what he most needs.

Johnson's memories of his difficult time with Jose Mourinho certainly suggest he might take some persuading to go back. "I wasn't given a chance," he said. "I couldn't show what I could do. Playing one game in six weeks is no good for anybody, no matter what age you are. Obviously, at the start you can bite your tongue and bear it. But there's only so much you can take."

Portsmouth and Harry Redknapp, who took him there, made him "love the game again," he said. "When I was at Chelsea, I used to say to my mates that I'm paid to play football, but football's what I'm doing least," he recalled. "It's kind of crazy. One of the main reasons I signed for Portsmouth was I knew I was going to be playing week in, week out. At the time, that's what I needed."

Though Liverpool also appreciate the player, and still look in need of a more consistent right-back than Alvaro Arbeloa, Rafael Benitez is not the type of manager who would offer Johnson time to grow.

Johnson, who has been a permanent fixture in England's last six games in Wes Brown's absence, accepted that Saturday was not the best of his 14 outings for England. "I know I can do better, but again we got the job done, " he said, adding that playing an energetic side 3,000 miles from home was not quite as elementary as some may have thought. "The manager warned us it wouldn't be easy," Johnson said. "A lot of people seemed to think it would be, but the pitch wasn't great and it's been tough for the boys. The whole squad hadn't really slept for three days given the [five-hour] time difference and all those things play a part."

But there is a feeling among some at the FA that Johnson remains a work in progress. Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, suggested as much on the eve of Saturday's game in the course of hailing Johnson as part of the attacking dimension the national side need. "We've got to get [our full-backs] comfortable beyond the half-way line," Brooking said. "That's why Glen's come through very strongly. We all know he's got to work on the defensive part but [he's] playing regularly at Portsmouth and suddenly he's looking really good at the back."

Johnson arrived home yesterday and perhaps he should remember the value of putting down roots for a while. The tattoo which twists round his left arm reads, "Everything happens for a reason" and nothing could be closer to the truth where his decision to leave west London for Portsmouth was concerned.

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