Michael Johnson and the Manchester City and England career that was never realised

Manchester City announce midfielder has been released

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The Independent Football

At the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City’s greatest players are emblazoned around the ground.

This form of tribute allows fans of all generations to reflect on the greatest players to ever adorn the City crest in the blue half of Manchester.

One of those names featured is Paul Lake; the former England Under-21 captain who was forced to retire in 1996 after snapping his cruciate ligament six years earlier.

He was just 27.

The tale of Lake is a tragic one given the enormous struggle he endured just to return to the game he loved; he ruptured the cruciate in his right leg on three occasions and went through 17 operations to save his injured knee.

And 17 years on from Lake’s retirement, it appears Michael Johnson’s top-flight footballing career has reached its conclusion.

Pictures will reveal a bloated and appallingly unfit snapshot of Johnson, a stark contrast to the 19-year-old who Sven-Goran Eriksson once said he would not even swap for Steven Gerrard.

The parallels between Lake’s retirement and Johnson’s release from Manchester City, confirmed today, are all too obvious; footballers with huge promise, schooled at the club, only to never fulfill their projected potential.

In truth, they could not be more dissimilar.

Underneath Lake’s name at the Etihad are the years he featured for the club: 1987-1992.

Although he would formally retire four years after his final appearance for the club in August 1992, Lake’s final years for the club saw depression and rehabilitation undermine his later seasons at the club he had supported since childhood.

He was given a five-year contract in 1990 and made club captain, a move indicating something special for both Lake and Manchester City but sadly a few months later his career was over.

A seemingly innocuous challenge with Aston Villa’s Tony Cascarino ruled Lake out for almost two years and when he returned his cruciate ligament snapped against Middlesbrough in just his second game back.

At 23, he would never play again.

Johnson made his debut in 2006 but rose to prominence under Eriksson in the 2007-08 campaign, scoring the winner enriched with elegance against Derby County in the first home fixture of the season.

The midfielder never did earn an England cap, but this breakthrough campaign along with two caps at under-21 level denoted he was not far off it.

Nor was Lake; who made six appearances for the under-21s and was part of Sir Bobby Robson’s provisional squad for Italia ’90 but was cruelly denied the chance to play his part in England’s most successful World Cup since 1966.

Johnson began the following season strongly; under new manager Mark Hughes he appeared in City’s opening seven games of the season but that was when his troubles began.

An abdominal injury, followed by a double-hernia operation, saw him make just one further appearance that season.

He began the 2009-10 campaign fit and back in Hughes’ first-team plans and likewise Lake 19 years before, signed a five-year contract with the club.

And similarly to Lake, Johnson was rumoured to move to Anfield; Liverpool made bids for both players but were rebuffed, allowing their promising English talents to remain in sky blue.

Johnson’s career, though, was embarking on its rapid deterioration.

A recurrence of his abdominal injury meant he featured just twice that season and not at all the following campaign.

The nature of his injury meant he lost his shape and physique during this period, and he was seen to be enjoying more than the occasional night out.

In 2011/12, he linked up with Eriksson at Leicester on a season-long loan but was sent back in January last year, with two and a half years left on his contract at the Etihad.

His last appearance for Manchester City came in September 2009, scoring in a 5-1 League Cup victory over Scunthorpe.

He was still only 21.

Johnson has not been a star at Manchester City for a long time now and was nowhere to be seen during the club’s Premier League title celebrations with Roberto Mancini’s team last season.

In fact, prior to the bloated photo released, the last we had seen of Johnson was a drink-driving charge which saw him banned for three years.

The comparisons between Lake and Johnson are obvious given their City connections but while the former was tragically robbed of his talent, the latter stupidly wasted his.

Johnson comes under a long list of players who possess a wealth of talent but simply cannot match that with the application required to become a successful sportsman.

Upon his arrival into the England set-up in 1989, Lake was told: 'Don't get too good, mind. I'm not having you nicking my f***in' place.'

Who delivered the message? Paul Gascoigne.