Adam Johnson warns young players: Join Manchester City and you will be forgotten
Sunderland winger faces old team today and says winning medals failed to make up for not playing
It took Martin O'Neill two words: reflected glory. It is still taking Adam Johnson a lot more, but then it was his life and his dream when he joined Manchester City for £8m in 2010, and your dreams are not supposed to bump into other peoples', as his did.
Making sense of his time at the Etihad Stadium is similarly coming slowly. He won the FA Cup. He won the Premier League, but he did not feel fulfilled. On 24 August this summer, he joined Sunderland, got injured with England and three weeks later had to watch his old team-mates, his best friends as he still calls them, run out at the Santiago Bernabeu, from his front room, on his television.
As he sits amidst the sumptuous backdrop of Seaham Hall, his initial thought is that he would do it all again, no question. He would join City and go through those two-and-a-half years. He dreamed of winning the Premier League and he did it. He loved the Champions League.
Only later come the pay-off lines, that he knew after the first game in Europe's very top competition he felt dissatisfied, that he realised then it wasn't supposed to go like that; on the bench, or a bit-part, or even worse, sat in the stands. Watching.
At that point, half-an-hour later, there comes the advice to what he calls "young, young" players [he was 22 when he left Middlesbrough] to ignore the call from City, should it come. But the interview is a paradox, and for that, Johnson actually deserves credit, because this is about thoughts that are still formulating, and about honesty.
He is still working it out, deciding whether missing a World Cup (South Africa 2010) and a European Championship (Poland and the Ukraine this summer), when he wasn't a week-in, week-out regular, is paid off in kind by pocketing two medals every player craves.
"It was ups and downs," he says, reflecting on 30 months of his life. "The ups are probably the best you will have in your career. I don't look back in any regret or any sort of thing. I would do it all again tomorrow if I had the chance.
"I would still have the medals. That is the main thing as a kid when you're growing up. When you look back on your career, it's about winning the Premier League. I did that."
And yet... Somewhere, inside the confusion of Johnson, is a bigger question, and it is ultimately about an old fashion yardstick: job satisfaction. Clearly, in leaving the Premier League champions, his was low.
"You want to be part of the Champions League and stuff, but there's no point just being part of it and not playing in it. I wanted to play. You ask any player if they mind sitting on the bench, and if they say they don't mind, they'd be lying. They'd also be lying if they say they don't mind playing every couple of games. I was no different.
"It is a lot different when you don't play. The novelty wears off, definitely. At first, when you haven't played Champions League games before, it's great to be involved with the atmosphere, going to different grounds and things but it's about playing. The novelty wore off probably when I didn't play in the first game."
Today at the Etihad he will come face to face with Roberto Mancini, the City manager who bought him, and slightly unwillingly, sold him, having not satisfied the player's desire to play.
"Will you speak to him?"
"I'll probably say hello to him."
"How about the suggestion you went out too much?"
"You have to ask him for the reasons why he didn't play me. I was no different to half the team, it's just I always seemed to be the one who got caught, or who was seen as doing it, but I wasn't just going out by myself."
And then, Johnson's patience drained. "There were conversations between me and him," he adds. "If you're left out for a game, you think you're going to play in the next one. You can't be expected to play every game unless you're one or two individuals. I sort of got my head down and I wasn't one to go speaking and things. I trained and hoped I'd be in the next game. Then it got a bit too much.
"He wanted that many players in the squad. He's got to deal with it, hasn't he? You can probably have too many world-class players at once. You bring 26 world-class players in and you're going to have trouble picking a team, and there would be three or four internationals in the stands and I was one of them. Fair enough, if you're young lads and you're learning, but I think it would only be a matter of time before senior players become unhappy."
Now, the North-east stage is once more his. "Martin O'Neill has been excellent, he hasn't been pushing me, or pressuring me or forcing me, he said come back when you're right. I didn't want to let him down. I'd just signed and I was injured.
"He speaks to me a lot and has a friendship with the players. As a manager you can talk to him about anything really, it doesn't have to be football. That gets the best out of players, he knows when to shout and knows when to put his arms around players. He does that very well.
"He makes you know he wants you and he makes you feel 10ft tall. If that's how a player feels, that's when you play your best football.
"When City come in for you it is hard to say no. I would probably advise young, young English players: 'You probably won't get the chance to play as much as you'd like'. It's turned out that way as well with recent signings.
"I was forgotten about as a player. I want to get playing again and have people talk about me again for being a good player. That's why I signed for Sunderland. I've come here and I'll be able to play with a bit of freedom and do what I did before I left Middlesbrough."
New, less transient, glory.
Adam Johnson was having a first look at Medal of Honor Warfighter, in which gamers can go head-to-head with the world's best special forces. Medal of Honor Warfighter is on sale from 26th October on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. For more information and to pre-order, visit uk.medalofhonor.com.
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