Though Liverpool won't be looking to negotiate any new deals for first team players before the end of the season, uncertainty over the future of Glen Johnson has today lessened. With only a year remaining on his contract and speculation over his future growing, manager Brendan Rodgers stepped in to make clear just how much he values the fullback, outlining a new deal as one of the summer's top priorities.
"It's important for me with how we play that the full-backs can get up, join in and make runs in behind," Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo. "We are seeing now the player we all know Liverpool had—which is one of the best fullbacks in the world. We want to keep Glen here, there is no question about that, especially now he's in this form. He's 29 and we feel that he has still got good years ahead of him."
Having seen his form suffer due to a string of minor injuries over the past year, some had begun to wonder if Johnson's time at the club was nearing its end. At his best there are few better fullbacks in the game, but Johnson hadn't been at his best for some time and, on high wages and with his contract nearing its end, it was easy to imagine Liverpool looking elsewhere once the season ended.
"It’s been really difficult for Glen because he has wanted to give so much more," continued the manager. "He wanted to put himself out on the training pitch every day and play games but he was nowhere near 100% right. Of course when you put yourself out there you are getting judged. That is why we had to give him that time out.
"There was no timeline on it. I just knew there was so much more to come from him. We needed to come together to find a way to get him back to his best. That meant taking him out in order for him to get back to that level. Now he’s feeling fresh and playing for the first time in ages without any injuries. Now you see that mobility and running power that he has."
Rodgers clearly believes the right back has turned the corner and that fitness won't be a concern moving forward. For the fans, though, Saturday's match against Cardiff City was the first time in a long time they had seen Johnson at his best, and many will want to see if he can maintain that form the rest of the way before the club commits to a new deal—and it appears they'll get their wish.
"No contracts will be looked at until the summer but his will be a priority for us," said Rodgers, reiterating his pre-Sunderland press conference suggestion that any new deals would have to wait until the season was over. "The beauty of this is we want to keep Glen and Glen loves it here. We just need to find a solution which is good for both. If we can do that then the club will have a very good player for years to come.
"We have other players like young Jon Flanagan who only has one year left, while Jordan Henderson only has two years left. They have been great and we want to look at those contracts. That's something that will be for the summer. The players can do themselves no harm by continuing to play in the form they are in. The club will then take a close look at it."
If he can play Liverpool's final eight games in peak form as he did Saturday's against Cardiff, there's little doubt Johnson will deserve the new deal Rodgers is inclined to hand him. It would also go a long way towards helping Liverpool secure their first title of the Premier League era, a feat that would seem decent justification for rewarding all three of Johnson, Henderson, and Flanagan with new deals.