Adam Johnson, much to the amusement of his former Middlesbrough teammate, was linked with a shock move to Real Madrid in 2008. Juande Ramos had just been sacked by Tottenham, somehow landed the job at the Bernabeu and had reportedly put the dextrous winger on his wish list. Johnson takes up the story: "My teammate Andrew Taylor called me out of the blue. I remember it well. I was in the car and he said, 'Real Madrid want you'," he recalled.
"I said, 'Pull the other one, like' but he said, 'No, seriously, it's all over Sky'. He said, 'Are you going?' and I said, 'I honestly don't know anything about it'. "Then I arrived at the training ground and was getting all sorts of stick. They were calling me Raul, El this and El that and all the Real Madrid players' names. And they were saying, 'Can we come and clean your car?'" The move never materialised but the Boro players were at it again this week when Johnson finally secured his move away from the Riverside.
"There has been all sorts of text banter with the lads, and you can imagine what they have been saying, particularly with all the money City have got," said the mild-mannered and quietly-spoken Johnson. "Tony McMahon [the Boro right-back] has been the worst, he's always having a laugh." Johnson, though, was not seeing the funny side of things on Monday morning when he feared his dream move to the Premier League was about to be dashed.
Steve Gibson, the Boro chairman, was involved in a game of brinkmanship with Garry Cook, City's executive chairman, and was keen to hold out for the best price for a player who had been at the club since he was 12. "In the days leading up to the last day of the window I didn't think it was going to happen, to be honest," he said. "Middlesbrough wanted to keep me and it sounds like the fee wasn't right so I was getting a little bit agitated but I went into training on Monday and told the gaffer [Gordan Strachan] I wanted to go to City as it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. He said, 'Leave it with me'. Then 40 minutes later he said I can go down and do a medical.
"Gordan Strachan was brilliant with me. I probably wouldn't have got the move if it wasn't for him as he really understood me. I told him how I felt, that I needed to move on to become a better player and time was ticking. I sat down with the chairman and he wanted to keep me but I had my mind made up: I wanted to play in the Premier League." Johnson admitted he left Boro with a heavy heart, however.
"It is sad to leave a team I joined when I was 12," he said. "I leave a lot of friends behind who I have grown up with but this is what you have to do if you want to further your career." Boro were content to allow Johnson to see out his contract and leave on a free in the summer but Johnson revealed he would have signed a new improved deal had the terms been right. The fact that Stewart Downing, who has since departed for Aston Villa, was blocking his path to regular first-team football would also have been a factor.
"I would have signed a new contract with Middlesbrough a couple of years ago had they given me the right deal but it wasn't right at the time and I just felt it was going on and on and on," he said. "I then thought that if I keep playing well then there are going to be a lot of teams in for me so, from about a year ago, I knew I wasn't going to re-sign." Many clubs were alerted to Johnson's availability and would have been impressed by his performances in the England Under 21 side which reached the final of the European Championship last summer. But a large number of his 72 Premier League appearances since he made his debut against Arsenal as a 17-year-old in 2005 have been as a substitute and he remains unproven in the top flight. Whether he can transfer his sparkling form from the Championship to the Premier League will provide a test of Brian Marwood's judgement. Marwood is effectively City's director of football and was a major player in the move for Johnson.
"I never really got a run of games in the Premier League with Boro," countered Johnson. "I think it's a clean slate for me now and I will just try and show what I can do. The proof is on the pitch. I'm just thrilled to be at such a big club and dead excited to get started." Johnson had been aware of City's interest for some weeks and was keen to impress his potential suitors in the FA Cup match between the two sides in January.
He also did his homework on the club, canvassing the opinion of City's raft of England U21 players. "I spent the whole summer with Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha at the Euros, I know Michael Johnson and I'm really good mates with Joe Hart. We went on holiday together in the summer. I spoke to Joe and Nedum and they said the club has been really good sinceRoberto Mancini took over. "There were a few other bids on the table but once Man City came in that was the only option in my mind. I wanted to go there to play with some world-class players.
"It's going to be great training with world-class players who I have watched and looked up to over the past few years. I just can't wait to learn things off them on the training field every day. Hopefully that will push me on." Johnson is looking forward to rubbing shoulders with one player in particular. "[Carlos] Tevez stands out," he said. "He's the main man at the minute and is a genuine world-class player. You just have to look at the squad to realise how good the club is."