"A guy with a big talent - I am sad for him" - The career of Michael Johnson

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When a young English footballer bursts through a youth academy with a bag full of potential, it becomes difficult not to get carried away with the hype that surrounds fresh talent.

Recently it has been Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder who if he can avoid the injuries that have plagued his early career, can be the focal point for both club and country for years to come. Before him team-mate Theo Walcott, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard are all established players who burst through their respective youth academies.

The flip side however, is the pressures that come from being a wonderkid; Fans and pundits are expecting to see progression, the fire of potential remaining lit with the expectancy to mould into a world-class developed talent. The likes of Gerrard, Rooney and Walcott have all established their careers in separate ways and are established England internationals, but not all promising talent has had the luck of everything piecing together, most notably, one Michael Johnson.

Johnson, now 25, had a much travelled youth career, starting with boyhood club Leeds United, before time at Dutch club SBV Excelsior and Everton until seemingly finding his place at Manchester City in 2004.

After serving his footballing apprentice, culminating with an FA Youth Cup final appearance in 2006, Johnson made the transition from the successful Platt Lane youth academy to the Manchester City first-team, full of talent and promise.

The 2006-2007 season brought Johnson to the attention of the wider footballing public, seeing a run of seven consecutive games on the back end of the season before a hamstring injury ended the run, the first issue of many.

In 2007, the arrival of Thaksin Shinawatra as owner of the club, and the subsequent rise in quality of acquisitions did not have a detrimental effect on Johnson's progression, still playing his part despite the arrivals of players such as Elano, Geovanni, Gelson Fernandes and Martin Petrov.

It was during this season that the first major recurring injury, an abdominal injury, first occurred. Essentially breaking Johnson's season into two parts, missing the back end of 2007 and early stages of 2008 recuperating from the injury and a double-hernia operation.
Like many players handling their first few spells on the sideline, Johnson recovered and was ready to start again the following season, with promising performances under now manager Mark Hughes, but his season was to be cut short, with a recurrence of the abdominal injury at the end of September 2008. It was arguably here where Johnson's first-team career as a regular at Manchester City ended.

Comebacks came and went, and injuries became all to regular in the young Midfielders career, working under a new manager in Roberto Mancini, Johnson scored his first goal in over a year for Manchester City against Scunthorpe United in the League Cup in late October 2009. However, just six weeks later, City announced Johnson's season was over yet again, this time a knee injury, occurring during a training session.

A loan spell under former City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson at Leicester City in 2011 was seen as an opportunity for Johnson to make a return to the game, with more guaranteed playing time away from Manchester City's star studded line-up. Nine games in, and Johnson was again blighted by injury just five months into the season long deal, it proved the be the last bite of the cherry for a player who seemingly had the world at his feet just five years previously.

Two cases of drink-driving charges in February and June 2012 was a clear indication that Johnson was losing the self-discipline required to be in his profession. For all of his injury issues, Johnson clearly is not blameless in the outcome of his career. 

In January 2013, rumours surfaced that Johnson had left City the month previously, and a picture taken of the now former City midfielder surfaced on Twitter, showing Johnson to be unfit, almost unrecognisable to the same person who had so much potential when he arrived on the scene. 

Johnson, during an interview admitted he had been attending the mental health clinic, Priory clinic in a bid to deal with his mental health issues. It was in the same interview he stated 'I would be grateful if I could be left alone to live the rest of my life now'. 

It is a sad end to a hopeful career, and where some may have little sympathy for Johnson, who upon release by City was paid out of his contract of £25'000 a week, approximately £600'000 altogether. But the fact is that it was a terrible end to a career for a player who had so much to live up to, but clearly struggled with the discipline and demands of the professional career. 

For the truth is that talent only sets you up so far in the professional career, it also requires hard work - not to say Johnson did not put in the work to try and resurrect his career - but a mental strength is necessary, to be able to deal with the spells on the sidelines, and the almost inevitable disappointments players will feel in their careers. 

Johnson's career is a clear example of how a football career can be as destructive as it can be fruitful. Once touted as a 'future England captain', Johnson only experienced a level as high as under-21's at international level. The man who holds that tag today is Jack Wilshere, a player familiar with long-standing injury problems himself. 

Whereas Wilshere appears to be a player who possesses the mental strength to come back from spells out injured, the fine line of the football career is perhaps best demonstrated by the Arsenal midfielder. Last Saturday, Wilshere finished off one of the best team goals in recent memory to give Arsenal the lead against Norwich. Come Tuesday however, Wilshere picked up in an injury under no contact from another player or any sign of landing awkwardly whilst running, it shows the highs and lows that come with the profession. 

For Wilshere though, his situation is totally different to that of Johnson's, whereas it is almost inevitable Wilshere will one day fulfil his promise, Johnson just was not given the time injury-free, or the luck of going a whole season injury free. 

It is highly unlikely that Johnson will ever play professionally again, but you hope a situation like this will allow Johnson to take control as to where he goes from here, and can make something of himself. 

Football is a highly rewarding career for those who make a career out of it, but many fall by the waste side and have very little to fall back. There is a cliche in football that there is a fine line between winning and losing, and the very same saying applies to the career of a young footballer. 

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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