Adam Johnson has credited Manchester City with providing him with the platform to showcase his skills and win a place in England's preliminary World Cup squad. The beguiling winger was languishing in the second tier of English football with Middlesbrough until City, on the recommendation of Brian Marwood, the club's football administrator, plucked him from obscurity in January.
Since his £7 million (Dh38m) move, Johnson has produced a series of eye-catching displays on the flank that pushed City to the brink of Champions League qualification and catapulted him into the thoughts of Fabio Capello, the England manager. The 22-year-old has become a firm favourite at Eastlands, making 15 appearances and winning the club's Goal of the Season award with a sublime curling effort against Sunderland.
"If I hadn't gone to City then I would not even have been in contention for a place in the squad," he admitted. "I would have had no chance. It's been brilliant at City. From day one it's been fantastic and my form has been good, which has been the most pleasing aspect. I've played 15 games which is more than I thought I would." Johnson, however, would have been forgiven for thinking he had blown his audition when he underwhelmed the watching England manager in the Manchester derby last month but he will have no doubt impressed Capello with his display against Tottenham last week and sealed his place in the squad with a sprightly display against West Ham in front of the watching Franco Baldini, Capello's assistant, on Sunday.
It was, ironically, at Upton Park, the home of West Ham, on the final day of last season where Johnson was relegated with Middlesbrough, the club he joined as a schoolboy. It appears that his last performance in east London was enough to clinch his place in the squad, which will be trimmed to 23 on June 1 after friendlies against Mexico and Japan. "A year is clearly a long time in football," said Johnson. "I was devastated that day we were relegated yet now I could be going to the World Cup. It's obviously a massive achievement for me but I've got a lot of hard work to do because I want to be in the final 23. I was hoping to be in with a chance but, yes, it did come as a surprise."
In fact, the mild-mannered and modest Johnson was so uncertain of his place that he booked a holiday to Las Vegas this summer. "Obviously I won't be too bothered if I lose my money if I make the World Cup squad," he said before recalling the moment when he discovered he was in the initial squad. "I got a call from the FA to say I was in contention to be in the squad and then I saw it come up on Sky Sports. You can't realise describe into words how the feeling when you see your name. It is the best moment of my career."
Johnson will join up with the squad next week and find himself parachuted into a dressing room that will include household names like Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. "I know a few of the lads in the squad from the Under 21s and I obviously know Gareth Barry from City," said Johnson, "but it's going to be a bit surreal going in on the first day. I'm just so glad I've got this opportunity. I watched every game at the last two World Cups and you just have such great memories. To think I could be a part of that is amazing."
As well glowing reports from Roberto Mancini, City's Italian manager, Capello is also likely to have received a ringing endorsement on Johnson from Stuart Pearce, the England Under 21 coach who gave the wide man 19 caps at youth level. "You'd have to ask him (Pearce) if he had a word with Capello," said Johnson. "He gave me my U21 debut and I played a lot of times for him and he is a good coach. Mancini has been great, though. He has played me nearly ever game and given me confidence. All the lads at City have helped and made me feel really welcome."
Capello gave little away about chances of Johnson of making the plane for South Africa at yesterday's press conference at Wembley. "He played very well in the second part of the season with Manchester City," said Capello. "He's one of the younger players most interesting in the Premier League and I want to check him out during the training camp." Should he be selected, Johnson has the ability to unlock parsimonious defences and, crucially, will help England improve their ball retention. He also has an uncanny knack of winning penalties, with his quick feet enticing rash challenges from defenders. He is certainly eager to impress.
"I've got to go and do my best and see and then hopefully make it difficult for Mr Capello to leave me out," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org