Glen Johnson may well be the best English right-back around
at the moment, but he's not worth
the reported £17 million
Liverpool are about to pay for him.
Having failed to make the grade at Chelsea,
he cost Portsmouth
£4m just two years ago.
And while he has undoubtedly come on as a player during his
time at Fratton Park, it's difficult to justify how he
is £13m better.
That said, Liverpool
certainly needed to address that area of their team. Both their full-back positions
proved to be serious weak spots for them throughout last season.
The signing of Johnson will help in that department, but
only if Rafael Benitez allows him to play his own game.
Johnson's strength is his natural instinct to attack down
the flank. He's pacy, comfortable
with the ball at his feet and confident going forward.
Defensively, he is liable to the odd lapse, but it is rare
these days to find a full-back who is as competent at
the back as he is going forward.
Indeed, a full-back's role has changed enormously since my
playing days. Back then, you were a defender first and foremost. If you could
get forward occasionally, so much the better. But much more than that is
expected from the modern-day full-back.
Johnson ticks most boxes - he even proved last season that
he poses a real goal threat. His effort against Hull City, a dipping long-range volley that won Goal of the Season,
was a real cracker. It was worthy of any of the
best strikers in the league, especially as he struck
it with his weaker left foot.
And that is why Johnson is so highly-rated - and valued. But
to get the best out of him, Benitez will have to let
him play his natural game, get forward and ask the question of the
opposition full-back: are you brave enough to come forward yourself?
If so, Johnson can be a hit on Merseyside. But if not, if
Benitez asks him to play a different style, we
may not see the best of him.
He may also struggle if he
does not play week in-week out - and not even Fernando Torres is guaranteed that at Liverpool. After all, we all know how Benitez loves to
rotate his squad. But a player can only improve if he plays; sitting on the
bench is of no use.
Another concern is that Johnson may yet prove to be a small-club player. The step up to one of the big four is a
huge one, such are the massive expectations at that quartet. His price tag will
do him no favours in that respect either.
He'll have to hit the ground running, and if he does, Liverpool may not be the only ones to benefit. To have a right-back playing regular Champions
League football will be a huge boost for Fabio Capello's
Johnson is now in a great position to make that position his
own. Gary Neville's international
career is fading fast, Wes Brown has yet to prove his fitness and Johnson has
the edge over Luke Young and Micah Richards.
And looking at the Under-21s, there are no youngsters likely
to rival him any time soon, so it's time for Johnson to kick on, forget about
his price tag and prove his real value.