Despite his (let’s be kind here) erratic recent form, Glen Johnson is a quality player on his day. He’s a valuable attacking asset and has formed part of cohesive defensive units under previous managers. This season has been a different story however; Johnson’s form has been well below what’s been expected from him. It’s a mark of how well others have done in his absence, and how poorly Johnson has performed when he has played, that not renewing his contract and cutting our losses by selling him is now more of a certainty than keeping him.
In the background of all this is the negotiations themselves. Johnson’s reported to be unwilling to take a pay cut from the handsome £100,000+ per week he earns. Now whilst it’s justifiable that the player shouldn’t want to take a pay cut (would you if you were him?), he really has to be mindful of the surroundings he now finds himself in. The club has spent a great deal of time and effort reducing the wage bill down to something more manageable for a team that’s not in the Champions League. Johnson’s current contract is a throwback to another era and it’s incredibly unlikely that we’ll see its like again. The club now prefers to reward players with big contracts based on their age, how valuable they are as an asset and their long term form. On all three of those tenets Johnson falls down. He’s getting on in age, there’s not a lot of resale value to be had from him and his form has been ‘erratic’ at best.
In any sport, the usual rule of thumb is that a player will play his best stuff in a ‘contract’ year; showing how off how good he is to add on the extra cash when the negotiations roll around. That works on two fronts, either their current employer has to pay up, or another team will swoop in because they’ve seen a high performing player who can be brought in without much trouble. In most sports that usually means the final year of the contract but as football works slightly differently, it usually means the 18 months before the contract is due to expire. In Johnson’s case that hasn’t happened, in fact he’s played like he’s been sulking because he’s not got what he wanted. It has emerged that he’s been carrying injuries so that explains the poor performances, but it doesn’t excuse what appears to be a poor attitude, especially when he’s lost the ball or tracking a runner.
Not to pre-judge anything but the way this season is panning out, it looks like we’ll be returning to at least some sort of European football next season. That requires a much larger squad than we currently have so any transfers that happen in the summer, I’d prefer them to be weighted 80/20 if favour of incoming players. There should be no reason to ship out any player who currently plays in the first team in the summer; we need reinforcements, not wholesale changes. Having said all of that, that only includes Johnson if he’s willing to take a substantial pay cut. If he thinks that he’s worth more than Liverpool are offering then he should be our guest and test the waters of being a free signing. There aren’t many teams in England who will offer him what Liverpool is offering him which is (apparently) £70,000 a week and probable Champions League football. If he thinks he can do better than that, well then see you later, Glen.
Despite his performances this season and his injury problems, I’ve always got a place in my squad for good players and despite thoughts elsewhere to the contrary, Glen Johnson is a good player. Like the Million Dollar Man said “everyone has a price”, and for Johnson that price is a lot lower than he currently perceives it to be. There’s a contract on the table for Johnson, it shouldn’t go any higher so it’s his choice whether he sticks or twists. I hope he sticks but I’ll lose no sleep if he twists. Let’s just hope that he’s not left twisting in the wind.
It wasn’t long ago Glen Johnson was viewed as a crucial member of the Liverpool side-and rightly so. This past autumn, in the midst of a period during which the Englishman was out due to injury, Brendan Rodgers acknowledged that Johnson was the type of player whose absence truly underscored his importance to the team. At the time it was easy to see why; with more than enough pace to maintain the high line the manager prefers, as well as the skill and technique to offer a genuine threat in attack, Johnson appeared the prototypical fullback for the new Liverpool.
As we near the end of Year Two in the Rodgers era, it’s difficult to determine what exactly went wrong. To the delight of supporters, the Reds have unleashed a scintillating attacking blend, relying on intricate passing and movement, as well as on breakneck counterattacks-both areas for which Johnson would seem ideally suited. However, the fullback has looked well off the pace for most of the season: clumsy in possession and unpredictable in terms of his decision making.
As the Liverpool brain trust ponder whether or not to offer Johnson a new deal, the crucial question remains: Which Johnson would such a contract land them? The fullback was unconvincing in his return to action against Swansea last weekend, although the long layoff and his deployment on the left, rather than on his preferred right side are reason enough to withhold judgment until the end of the season.
Regardless of Johnson’s play over the next eleven matches, however, I don’t think he’s worth renewing at his current salary. His erratic form, checkered injury history and age make that too risky a proposition. But the risks of losing Johnson are significant as well. This season Liverpool have suffered the consequences of discontinuity at the back; with a series of question marks surrounding Liverpool’s immediate future at the other three back line positions, the potential loss of Johnson could further unsettle the Reds’ defence.
Moreover, for all the offensive fireworks on display this season, Rodgers’ side have managed a paltry two goals in their three games away to the Top Three. Take nothing away from Liverpool’s impressive offensive output, but it’s going to take more than a sparkling front four to break down the stingiest defences at the most hostile grounds-in England and in Europe. In order to fully realise his vision, Rodgers’ system requires at least one fullback who can provide a legitimate threat in attack-and Glen Johnson is the only player in the squad truly capable of that feat.
For those reasons I say let’s give Glen a chance to prove himself over these next eleven matches. If he can return to a level at or near his best, I think the Reds would do well to secure his services at a slightly reduced salary, providing of course Johnson is willing to accept that. In a back line lacking in both consistency and attacking prowess, Johnson’s future contributions could be vital.
At his best, Glen Johnson is a devastating attacking full back whose class and composure on the ball would make him a nailed on first choice for any team in the country. Many times last season and at the start of this campaign, his ability to glide past opponents on either side regardless of which flank he happened to be on opened up an obdurate 11-behind-the-ball defence and created space inside for the likes of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho or Gerrard to exploit. Furthermore, on the back foot he was no slouch either, regularly showing that tales of his defensive mediocrity were very much over-cooked.
And yet - yes that's right: there's a huge proviso coming - he's wildly inconsistent. For every 8 or 9 out of 10 performance, how many 4s or 5s are there? It's certainly more than one or two. You know what I mean: the half-arsed tracking, the lack of awareness of what's around him, the lazy pass to opposing feet or the overly ambitious cut-inside-and-hit-it effort. This season such performances have become the norm which is utterly galling as I had thought he'd finally turned a corner after last season when he was mostly sublime.
So you can clearly see I'm erring on the side of answering in the negative to this question - and that's before we mention the obscenity of his wage packet for this degree of output. It strikes me that he's had a new deal on his mind for a while - but not necessarily at Liverpool. He's been learning Italian for few years now and also knocked back an extension to his current contract on reduced, but still generous terms last year. Frankly, he must know that in this FSG-instigated "value is all" era he hasn't got a hope in hell of a six figures a week wedge at almost 30 years of age and so his gaze is turning towards pastures new.
That said, I'm still not averse to re-signing him. The problem is that the terms I'd offer, though potentially very generous, would be heavily weighted towards appearances in the context of his variable fitness and form, and therefore unlikely to be accepted by Johnson himself. So the most realistic response to this question is no - but that's not because I wouldn't have him; it's more that he wouldn't like what I was offering and I suspect that that is exactly how it will play out this summer: he will leave the club on a free to release his fat wedge from the balance sheet and ensure that other clubs can afford him as a free agent. And if that opens up the way for Jon Flanagan to continue his development in the Liverpool first team, even better.