Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Full-backs don’t win you things...do they? (+ VIDEO)

It seems increasingly clear that the signing of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth is a nailed on certainty. But he's just a full-back; not really the attacking signing Liverpool FC need and not not really the type of player who can take the club to the next level. Or is he? Mark Jones seems to think so...

It was late and we’d had quite a bit to drink so I’ll forgive him. We’d enjoyed the Merseyside sunshine for most of the day but now the bell for last orders had long gone, and people were staggering towards the exit door when my mate uttered the above phrase.

We were, like thousands of other people in thousands of other cities, discussing football, and namely Liverpool’s imminent signing of the Portsmouth right back Glen Johnson for a sum that can only be described as ‘princely’, even when you take out the £7m or so that the Reds are still owed for Peter Crouch’s relocation to the South Coast last summer.

Full backs don’t win you things? Well Liverpool’s do. If you include penalty shootouts, Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy found the net five times between them in European Cup Finals between 1977 and 1984.

Phil Neal



Alan Kennedy v Real Madrid



Markus Babbel headed the opener in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final:



Djimi Traore - in an often forgotten moment - cleared off the line from Andriy Shevchenko at 3-3 in Istanbul; Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena fired the bullets that shot down Manchester United in March.

Eyebrows will be raised at the fee that the Reds are set to pay for England’s first choice right back, as they always seem to be whenever Liverpool splash the cash on any player (£18m for Anderson anyone? Anyone?!), but the signing would indicate that Rafa Benitez is placing a priority on his full back positions for arguably the first time in his reign.

The gauntlet was thrown down to Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa last season, the first of Benitez’ five years without the two full backs he inherited from Gerard Houllier; Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise.

Perhaps inspired by the challenge to see off newcomer Andrea Dossena, and certainly helped by his first largely injury-free campaign, Aurelio was one of Liverpool’s most consistently impressive performers last season, while Arbeloa overcame early jitters to reach levels of performance that surprised many people.

As good as Arbeloa has been, in an ideal world he would be (and read on for the most blatant example of damning with faint praise you’ll ever see) Liverpool’s version of John O’Shea; a steady if unspectacular performer capable of coming in and performing well as and when needed.

If the rumours of Real Madrid’s supposed 1/10 of a Ronaldo - also known as £8m - bid are true then he could be offloaded to generate funds, especially with just a year left on his contract.

Johnson would represent an improvement at first choice, with the physio’s friend Philipp Degen and maybe Stephen Darby as backup. This would leave Aurelio and the encouraging Emiliano Insua to fight it out on the left, with Dossena heading back to his homeland with nothing but his tail between his legs and stories of how he single-handedly saw off Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Despite recently wowing the crowds as England flat-track bullied their way to the brink of the World Cup finals, it is Johnson’s Premier League form that should have Reds fans feeling optimistic.

Picked in virtually everyone’s team of the 2008/09 campaign - a season where he’s played under three managers and camped in the bottom half of the table - Johnson has impressed everyone with his ability going forward.

Most point to that stunning, dipping volley against Hull – Match of the Day’s goal of the season – as evidence of the right back’s attacking prowess.



A better example came in a 3-0 win at Everton in the third game of the campaign. Johnson’s pace and power forced him to the edge of the Blues box before an exquisite one-two with Jermain Defoe ended with the full-back poking home in front of the Gwladys Street.



If you were looking for another reason to like him then there it is.

Liverpool’s occasional inability to navigate their way past packed defences at Anfield last season was one of the main reasons that the title went to Old Trafford. With Johnson on board, the Reds will possess a full back who loves to get to the by-line, get in crosses and even pop up on the scoresheet himself.

Sure his defensive abilities might not be quite up there with the best yet, but he’s got time on his side to improve them, and Liverpool spend less time defending than most teams.

At 24, Johnson could conceivably be Liverpool’s right back for the majority of the next decade, surely rendering the outlay for his services as money well spent.

Liverpool admittedly need reinforcements in other areas this summer but Johnson’s talent, coupled with the Crouch debt, means that this can be viewed as a relatively inexpensive gamble from Benitez, and the first time that he’s signed a proven Premier League full back.

Liverpool have had enough ‘missing pieces of the jigsaw’ to fill Stanley Park over the last few years, and it would be wrong to pressurise Johnson by claiming that he is the latest, but he’s a huge step in the right direction, regardless of the price tag.

Full backs don’t win you things? Glen Johnson is joining a club where he’s well placed to prove my mate wrong.

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