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
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
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
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn