Sunderland midfielder Adam Johnson says he faces a massive season as he bids to make a return to the England squad for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Johnson has 12 caps for the national side, but has lost his place in the team after struggling with form since his move from Manchester City.
But the 26-year-old says he is feeling good at the start of the new campaign, and is determined to make it back into the England fold after missing out on the last two major tournaments.
“This is probably as good as I’ve felt for a while now and I’m excited for this season. Hopefully I’ll get even fitter and stronger. I’m feeling good," he said.
“England is still burning inside me. It’s a massive season for me, just as it is for every player who has represented their country.
“To be on standby for the last two major tournaments and to miss out both times was really disappointing and somewhat tough to take, particularly with the way I was playing at the time.
“If I can deliver some good performances, then you would like to think that the England people will take notice. That’s how it has to be, but first I have to do it for Sunderland.
But my sharpness is definitely a lot better and I feel quicker and stronger in myself."
Sunderland have been busy in the transfer market this summer, strengthening their squad with a number of new faces.
And Paolo Di Canio is closing in on another with Greek international winger closing in on a £2.5 million move from Panathinaikos.
The 19-year-old could provide extra competition for Johnson, who is determined to prove his doubters wrong.
“I’m driven to prove myself. I know what it takes to be at the top, to win the league, to play for my country. I haven’t been with England for a year now – but that just drives me on more. Not to prove other people wrong so much, but to try and play well and get back into that set-up.”
Sunderland endured a painful start to the season as they were beaten at home by Fulham 1-0 on the opening day of the season. The Black Cats will be hoping for an improvement this weekend when they travel to Southampton.
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