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A Binding Contract?

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As the transfer deadline approaches Glen Johnson says he is content to remain at Liverpool, despite entering the last year of his contract. However, his less-than-emphatic language suggests a man who has been considering his future.

Sure, Glen need some attention but Zaf was shattered. He'd done nine medicals, you know...NINE!
Sure, Glen need some attention but Zaf was shattered. He'd done nine medicals, you know...NINE!
Clive Brunskill

There is, it would appear, an inexorable tide of progress rolling through Anfield and environs, an unyielding force of nature that seems to have been slowly gathering potency since the arrival of Brendan Rodgers in 2012. Make no mistake, this comparatively bombastic metaphor contains not an ounce of hubris. Your scribbler is as painfully aware as anyone that the potential is there for that same tide to overwhelm and suffocate. So much has happened in such a short time but for the most part it has been beautifully positive.

Supporters, who had become cynical and chary out of bitter experience, are once again suffused with belief and hope on the back of their team's exploits. These are genuinely exhilarating times to be a Red, but there must be patience as the speed of transition has been so alacritous. It goes against logic to assume that all will be seamless. Caution, however, does not stir the blood and when one contemplates the renewal of Brendan Rodgers' squad and the thrilling fresh options available to the Antrim man, it is impossible not to be a little giddy. Certainly, this welcome surfeit of choices will have its attendant problems but, provided results are not overly calamitous, fans will revel in watching the new boys contribute and hope the established stars continue to thrive under Rodgers' tutelage.

On the evidence of last season and the two games to date in the current campaign, there are a few of the more seasoned members of Rodgers' group who have not responded to the new atmosphere of expectancy and change in the kind of way fans would like to see. The paragraphs of this column have never been and will never be a home to the kind of moronic dismissal and acerbic carping that some are prone to, but there will not be many amongst you who believe that Glen Johnson, a trusted Rodgers' lieutenant, has been anything near his best for quite some time. The England regular seems to be a nailed-on starter as far as his manager is concerned and this despite an extended period of massively underwhelming form.

Johnson, once amongst the team's most valuable attacking threats with his slaloming runs, incisive passing and eye for goal, has been a very pale imitation of the player whose ability had him firmly ensconced as a favourite of many fans. Certainly, the full back has had his share of injuries and they have no doubt impaired his ability to perform at his peak. The idle speculation about wages and motivation that some have chosen to focus on is reductive and ultimately redundant but there has been, without question, a dramatic fall-off in his form. This, and the fact that the defender is in the final year of his contract, has resulted in a lot of chatter about a potential transfer. The player himself, however, claims to be fully at peace about the situation.

"I’m very relaxed about my contract," he averred to the Liverpool Echo. "There are no talks going on with the club at the moment. There were minor talks towards the end of last season but nothing else. I’ve loved playing my football here from day one. I’m more than happy here. But obviously I can only talk to the club about it when they want to speak to me.  In January I could (talk to other clubs), but I’ll worry about that when January comes. At the minute I’m playing for Liverpool and I’m happy here. I’m more than willing to stay. I’ll just concentrate on things here week by week. The manager has picked me so far. That shows he wants me here."

One does not need a doctorate in the subtleties of language interpretation to understand that Johnson's words are the kind of non-committal-yet-just-committed-enough stuff that professional footballers specialise in. Ultimately, it is their living and the lifestyle is generally a peregrine one. They must always keep their options open. This is only right. Johnson cannot be harangued for securing the best deal for himself. Would you walk away from his reputed £110,000 per week in wages? Where he must accept criticism is for his level of performance in return for that frankly ludicrous amount. Of course, rather than any further talk on that topic, he prefers, understandably, to focus on the team he's playing for "at the moment," expressing an enthusiasm about the season to come.

"There are new players who need to bed in and get used to the style of play," he insisted. "But we have signed some great players so I am sure it won’t take too long. The squad is definitely a lot stronger than it was. Now we’ve got players who can come off the bench and help the team. It’s not just the 11 starting the game that wins games, you need 14. It’s about squad performances. The manager wants competition for every position and you need that if you are going to compete in every competition this season. I don’t know what the expectation levels are outside the club but as players we certainly haven’t put any extra pressure on ourselves this season. We know how well we can play when we put it all together."

At this juncture, it seems only fair to remind Johnson that the "expectation levels" amongst the fans of Liverpool Football Club are somewhere north of lofty and that, of late, he himself is not meeting them. He may say he feels no "extra pressure," and indeed he may well be blessed with the kind of calm demeanour that can blithely ignore the growing pitch of the critical whining, but there is most certainly an unforgiving spotlight on his contribution. If, as seems likely, he is to remain at the club, supporters will hope for a return to his swashbuckling wing-back form in place of the disjointed and apparently apathetic displays of recent times. All may yet be well.