Michael Johnson (external links!)

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January 20, 2013 by Wayne.

While I enjoy inspirational shows about people dedicating their lives to their crafts (Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Indie Game, Chow Obsessives etc.), there are some pretty sad stories about those who don’t make it.

Take, for example, Michael Johnson, the footballer. Simon Austin did a piece about him here, which paints a pretty sorry picture. On Reddit, a bunch of people rounded on him until this person commented:

I knew this lad growing up. He grew up in Urmston and we shared mutual friends. His Dad is an excellent youth coach who took a local team all the way to playing guys like Ajax in youth tourneys. And Michael was his jewel in the crown.

There’s a lot of silly people talking a lot of silliness in this thread in what went on with him and what happened. Usually spouting worn out cliches about overpaying and over partying. To be honest, they’re pretty way off base.

Growing up I’d never seen anyone who worked harder than Johnson on his game. There was no regular N64 party with his mates, by the time he was about ready to leave primary school he was already off to Netherlands to play in a youth system over there. His entire life from being a toddler was built around football, the idea that he somehow lost desire is ridiculous and insulting. He sacrificed most of his childhood to become a footballer.

On this overpaid thing, people don’t seem to understand how contracts are structured, especially for a youth player at a Club like City then, you don’t just get your full whack every week. By the time MJ was 20 before any of the later drinking, he was having to borrow money to pay bills. Like every other footballer he thought he was invincible and bought a bunch of nice stuff when he broke in. The. He got injured, his wages dropped and he could barely make ends meet.

It’s hard to describe the type of toll that working your entire life towards a goal and being let down by your body in the cusp of achieving it takes on you. This guy wasn’t injured once, he was injured four or five times on the bounce. Initially it was a growth based injury, he was seen as the next big thing then was told that he had to go home and sit on his couch for a year because despite having immense talent, his body had failed him and there was no cure but to wait. And watch his peers surpass him in development.

He finally got back into training from this, and wanting to make up for lost time he pushed too hard too soon and buggered his knee. Another few months for him to wait and watch. At this point his behaviour was fine. What the City physios were doing allowing him to work so hard escapes me. I imagine he wasn’t best pleased either.

Same thing later happened again. Got his shit together, came back, immediately injured. At this point he sunk into a depression, understandable as he felt his hopes and dreams that he had worked so hard for to be slipping away due to little fault on his part. It didn’t help at this point that he had problems in an infuriatingly stupid and hostile dressing room. Ireland, Johnson, Samaras, etc all have frankly embarrassing stories about this period. It also didn’t help that the Club at this point were in mass disarray and couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, thus provided him with no support at all.

When it happened again injury wise, he completely fell apart. He decided that sitting in a couch rehabbing is doing nothing and started going into clubs and casinos more often. Here the cliches apply more.

He snapped out of this behaviour too late. Perhaps this coinciding with the extra support players were given is a coincidence but it probably isn’t.

Whilst Johnson contributed to the fucking of his career, I place a major proportion of the blame on the Club and the frankly scandalous lack of support young players were given. Almost every graduate of our Academy during that period has had major mental problems, from Ireland’s bizarre behaviour to Richards lack of assertion that Vieira sorted out, to Johnson and Ched Evans and Jordan etc.

For everybody’s screaming about bringing through kids, City early in the 00s are a perfect example of why fans need to calm down with this. We thought that we could save our money by bringing through players and it would just all work out in the end, without thinking of the long term. Long term we have wrecked the careers of several promising players because we concentrated on their footy skills and not their emotional development. We saved ourselves millions of pound in the short term to the cost of tens of millions in the long term.

We have learnt from these mistakes if the past but when I see Clubs like Villa and Sunderland getting plaudits for throwing bunches of kids into the mix, it makes me concerned about whether we in England are throwing another generation away due to this obsession with playing homegrown kids

What a shame.

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