Player to watch in 2014/15: Adam Johnson (Sunderland) 2

Four days ago, Adam Johnson turned 27.

Yes, really.

Because Johnson has done so little in his career, it’s easy to forget that he’s now made nearly 200 Premier League appearances.  He is, unfortunately, part of that generation of English players whose careers have, at one point or another, been derailed by moves to clubs at which they were never likely to start.

Maybe Johnson is actually an awkward fit for that category, because unlike players like Shaun Wright-Philips, Steve Sidwell, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell, he probably did have the talent to succeed within the top-four - in retrospect, maybe he just lacked the mental tools to exist at a club where he wasn’t automatically considered a starter.

Sunderland fans can be forgiven for having more affection for the player than most, but to the outside world Johnson is just someone who has added up to far less than the sum of his parts.  True, he’s very one-footed and can be extremely predictable when cutting in off the right-hand side, but his close-control and general technical ability should have consistently allowed him to get the better of bottom-half full-backs and to be a difference-maker in many more games than he actually has been.

Ellis Short’s decision to appoint Gus Poyet last season proved to be very astute, and the Uruguayan oversaw two strong patches of form - January to February, mid-April to mid-May - which ultimately saved the club from relegation.

Poyet’s managerial career is still embryonic, so while it’s too early to make definitive judgements about his tendencies and habits, there’s already a sense that he will not tolerate under-performing players and that he won’t indulge big-names purely on the basis of their reputations.

That’s not great news for Johnson.

His 2013/14 was not good.  Beyond a rich vein of form shortly after the turn of the year - which earned him a Player Of The Month award - he was MIA for most of the campaign and contributed at a bare minimum level.  Within the context of a generally under-performing squad maybe that seems harsh, but he was bought to be a leader at The Stadium Of Light and Sunderland’s sizeable investment in him needs to be repaid with more consistency and with game-winning performances against teams who aren’t just relegation-fodder.

Last season was him in a nutshell and it’s almost as if he believes that, as long as he can point to a couple of memorable games within a season, being average for the rest of the year is acceptable.  It’s not sufficient, not for someone with his ability.

Johnson is in his prime now, and this feels like a tipping-point season for him.  Either he starts becoming the player he could so obviously be, or he’ll be permanently bracketed as one of those luxury players whose career is defined by sporadic highlights and little more.

At no point since he left Middlesbrough has he ever actually improved as a player and, nearly four years later, he remains at roughly the same level that he was when he left The Riverside.  That’s some commentary on his mental approach.

His body language screams ‘entitlement’, and that needs to change sooner rather than later.  This should be a ten goals/ten assists player every single season, because that’s really what Sunderland’s fans are owed by his talent.

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