Johnson in rhythm with Moyes' Blues

Coveted striker convinced by Everton's plans
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The Independent Online

Footballers and song had not been natural bedfellows, but maybe things are changing. The new England captain, John Terry, recently revealed that Chelsea players have to hit the high Cs as part of an initiation ceremony, and Everton's newcomers have to sing for their supper too.

"It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do," Andy Johnson, the striker Everton paid £8.6 million to prise from Crystal Palace during the summer, said. "I had spoken to Phil Neville and he had warned me, but when we went out to dinner in Dallas in a pre-season tour and the old glass was clinked I thought, 'Here we go'. Fortunately the other players joined in at the chorus and it became a bit of a singsong."

For the record, Johnson's choice, performed with fellow new boy Joleon Lescott, was Ben E King's "Stand By Me" which shows a touch of class. But then Johnson tends to. He showed a loyalty rare in modern footballers when he stayed at Palace for another season when they were relegated in 2005, and he is equally solid when it comes to Sven Goran Eriksson.

If any player has reason to look at the Eriksson's reign as England coach with a certain jaundice it is Johnson, who was ordered to the right wing when he made his international debut in February 2005 and then had to watch with even more frustration than the rest of us when the hapless Swede chose to ignore his stand-by's claims and go to the World Cup several strikers light.

So is AJ bitter? Anything but. "He was fine," he said, ending hopes of a diatribe instantly. "He said he would stick by me if I was playing well in the Championship and he was as a man of his word. I was called up for three or four squads and I was included on the stand-by list for the World Cup. Of course I was frustrated when I didn't go to Germany, but when you look at the likes of Darren Bent, who scored 20-odd goals in the Premiership last season and who was left out completely, you can't complain."

Johnson's patience was tested again on Friday when he was left out of Steve McClaren's squad for this week's friendly against Greece, but this season still marks a step up in status for the striker, who had three Premiership clubs prepared to pay more than £8m for his services last May. Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers also wanted the man who scored at the rate of more than a goal every other game for Palace and got 21 goals in his one season in the top division, but he chose Everton because he felt they have the best chance of winning trophies.

"David Moyes told me his plans, outlined the way the club was going forward and I was sold. There was also the prospect of playing before 40,000 people every other week, which, with all respect to the other teams, they don't get gates like that. I have been to Goodison Park with Crystal Palace and the fans are tremendous, I know how difficult it is to play here. Everton are one of the bigger clubs in English football in terms of reputation and background, and the fan base is massive.

"They qualified for the Champions' League two seasons ago so I don't see why we can't do that again. I think we have to aim for the top six at least, because we have a squad here that's capable of doing that."

Johnson begins his career as the Everton No 8 - the same shirt number as at Palace - on Saturday against Watford, the oppon-ents who effectively ended his career at Selhurst Park by winning their play-off semi-final. Facing another year in the Championship was taking loyalty to extremes, hence the auction that led him to Goodison.

"I felt it was time for me to go," he said, "and I think the fans will respect my decision. In football there are times to move on. Iain Dowie [Johnson's erstwhile manager, who also left Selhurst Park this summer] needed a fresh challenge, I wanted a fresh challenge and Crystal Palace won their first two games of the season, so I am sure the supporters are happy."

So will Everton's be if Johnson can strike a similarly rich vein, because they have been looking for stellar quality ever since Wayne Rooney left the club two years ago. The team finished fourth the following season, but their goal difference was still in minus territory, and last term they scored only 34 times, their lowest Premiership tally ever. It is clear they need someone to ape Rooney's goal potential, and Johnson is the appointed one.

Coincidentally, Johnson also replaced Rooney when he made his England debut as a 61st-minute substitute against Holland 18 months ago, but he firmly resists any suggestion of a pattern.

"If Wayne had left last season it would be different, but he went to Old Trafford two years ago. He's happy at Man United and I'm happy here and I don't feel under any pressure to replace him. I'm just going to play my own game and hope it will be good enough for the fans.

"I've been playing well in the warm-up games, I'm probably fitter than I've ever been because the gaffer has put us through some hard sessions, and I'm positive the goals will come. I've had a couple of chances in pre-season and missed them, but that happens, I was a bit rusty.

"I'm feeling sharper now and I can't wait for the season to start." The reluctant crooner craves a chance to be on song.

THE JOHNSON FILE

BORN: 10 February 1981, Bedford.

DEBUT: Birmingham v Bury, September 1998.

EARLY DOORS: Helped Birmingham into top flight in 2002 but was sold to Crystal Palace for £750,000 as part of Clinton Morrison transfer; 32 goals as Palace were promoted in 2004, then 21 goals in top flight.

INTERNATIONAL HONOURS: Two full England caps, and was on stand-by for the 2006 World Cup.

MOVING ON: Went to Everton for £8.6m after Palace's failure in play-offs and departure of Iain Dowie.

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