World Cup 2014: Liverpool defender Glen Johnson hopes to show Cafu swagger in land of attacking full-backs

 

It is probably the most replayed Brazil goal of all time and it came in the 1970 World Cup final. You know the one: Jairzinho comes in from the left and squares the ball to Pele, who waits before delivering the perfect lay-off to Carlos Alberto, surging down the right, who thunders an unstoppable shot into the opposite corner of Italy’s goal. Not a bad finish for a defender, but then we are talking Brazil, home of the attacking full-back, as Glen Johnson well knows.

As a young player, the Liverpool right-back admits he took his lead from another of the great Brazilian full-backs, Cafu, the former Milan defender and the man who lifted the World Cup as the Selecao captain in 2002.

“You love to watch all the attacking players but Cafu, who played in the same position, was probably the best right-back there has ever been,” he said. “It was the way he carried himself – brilliant going forward, good on the ball and could defend very well. He had a bit of swagger.”

It seems a fitting choice of role model for a man who has been highly regarded for his attacking play ever since his emergence at West Ham United at the outset of a career that subsequently took him to Chelsea, Portsmouth and Liverpool. “It’s always been a big part of my game, to attack when I can and get forward and try to cause a few problems for the other side,” he said. “I’ve always liked to get forward and hopefully that will continue in Brazil.”

Johnson was speaking at St George’s Park ahead of England’s friendly tomorrow against Peru at Wembley, their final home fixture before they head to North America to continue their preparation for the World Cup finals. This will be the third major international tournament for the 29-year-old, a player whom Brendan Rodgers, his club manager, described earlier this season as “one of the best full-backs in the world”.

 

The World Cup is the ideal stage to prove that and one factor Johnson hopes to have in his favour is “a bit more freedom” to push forward under England manager Roy Hodgson than he did under Fabio Capello. “Roy encourages the full-backs to get forward and join in. We’ve got to be as dangerous as we possibly can when we have the ball.”

The modern full-back’s importance as an attacking weapon is well-documented but a defensive job is required too. After Liverpool’s implosion at Crystal Palace in the  3-3 draw that effectively ended their Premier League title challenge, Johnson used his Twitter account to respond to critics of their defending, yet he acknowledges that the balance must be right.

“The coaches encourage you to get forward but how and when is your decision because you’re playing the game. Sometimes when you end up on the other side [it is] because certain things have unfolded and you’ve seen more room and are trying to exploit that, but they [the coaches] wouldn’t be encouraging me to run across to the left wing too often.”

Over on England’s left wing, as it happens, are two other impressive attacking full-backs in Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw, the baby of the squad at 18 who “looks to have taken it all in his stride”, according to Johnson.

As one of England’s older guard, Johnson, capped 50 times, is encouraged by what he has seen from all of the “fearless” young players in Hodgson’s party, not least 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, his Liverpool team-mate. “Raheem is a very level-headed lad and he could bring that element of surprise. He’s got that coolness about him and hopefully he can take that to the World Cup.”

There are five Liverpool players in England’s squad overall plus Jon Flanagan on standby, yet it is another of Johnson’s Anfield team-mates, Luis Suarez, occupying perhaps the most prominent position in the pre-finals media bulletins.

Johnson has been in touch with Suarez since his knee operation and reports that the Uruguayan is confident of being fit to face England in their second Group D game on 19 June. “He doesn’t seem to think it’s too bad,” Johnson said. “He thinks he’ll be fit. We’ve been talking by text.”

He admits to mixed feelings about his friend’s availability for the game. “You don’t ever want to see your mates or team-mates injured. But if he was to miss our game and be fit for the next one...” he said, leaving the sentence unfinished. “He’s the sort of player who can create things out of nothing and causes everybody problems [and] he’s clearly not one of the players you want to play against in the World Cup, but I’d rather he be fit than injured.”

Johnson’s own fitness was a concern at the start of the year when he sat out a month of Liverpool matches owing to a combination of ankle and groin problems. “I was playing for two or three months with two or three injuries. They were never serious [but] it was affecting how I played. We called a time-out and said, ‘I’ve got to get fit’.”

On returning he found a rich vein of form and instead it was Kyle Walker, his rival for the England right-back berth, who missed out with injury.

Johnson bristles at the suggestion he would not have been first choice anyway. He will fly out to the World Cup as the squad’s only natural right-back, and he is going to the perfect place to showcase his talents.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms