Roberto Mancini has said that Adam Johnson must "think more" on the pitch if he is to improve as a player. In a critique that also suggested Johnson has paid too much notice to his own press, Mancini said the England winger needs more to his game than just "some dribbling or two crosses".
The Manchester City manager went on to say that he would be happy with a fourth place finish this season.
It was only two months ago that Johnson appeared to have the world at his feet, bursting onto the international scene like a seasoned professional, dancing through tackles and scoring a first England goal to boot.
Having emerged as one of the talents of the Premier League, impressing ever since his £7m move from Middlesbrough in January, the young winger was repeating that form for Fabio Capello and looked set for a long and prosperous career at the top.
But Johnson now finds himself on the fringes of the City side, having started just one of their last eight Premier League games. He made it on as substitute in Wednesday's Manchester derby and at West Bromwich and Wolves recently, but did not get on the pitch in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal. Johnson's last two starts were both in Europa League ties against Lech Poznan, and he finds himself competing with James Milner, David Silva and Mario Balotelli for two positions in Mancini's preferred 4-3-3 system, but is in line for a start at Eastlands today under the manager's rotation policy.
Mancini suggested how Johnson can make a stronger case for a regular role. "I think he can improve a lot more if he thinks more when he plays," said the Italian. "He's a good player but he's just 22 years old [actual age 23], he's played 20 games in the Premier League and it's impossible to think of him now as a top player.
"For this, he must work, he must think, he must work for the team. Some dribbling or two crosses don't make him a good player. He must keep his feet on the floor. He's a good player, he has a fantastic talent but he is not a top player at this moment. For me, he's a good guy, but it could be because when you are young you read the newspapers which say, 'I am the top, I am the top'. I think it's correct he can play for the England team, but if he wants to play for England he must play very well every game."
Johnson, though, is the least of Mancini's problems ahead of today's visit of Birmingham. He recently launched a robust defence of his tactics in the goalless draw with rivals Manchester United, which received jeers from City fans, and is dealing with the pressure of having to win every game at the world's richest club.
Yet his Manchester City side lie in fourth spot, a position that would guarantee qualification for the Champions League play-off round next season, and Mancini admits he would be satisfied if the season ended now.
"If the Premier League ended tomorrow, I am happy," he said. "Our target is to get to the Champions League. But the season is very long. It is important for us to stay near the top and we can change our target."
The Manchester City winger Kelvin Etuhu has pleaded not guilty to wounding with intent and to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He was arrested in February after two men were attacked outside Manchester's 235 Casino.
The 22-year-old graduate of City's academy is charged alongside Leonard Rico Richards, 27, from Longsight, Manchester, who also denied the charges. Both men were released on bail and face a trial next February. Etuhu has had loan spells with Leicester City, Cardiff City and Rochdale.Reuse content