EXPECTATION can be a cruel dictatorial master of legacy. That is something that many a footballer has found out over the years.
Without it, players such as Juan- Sebastian Veron and Andre Shevchenko would likely be remembered as solid if unspectacular Premier League schemers.
With it, Michu is not making headlines.
At Sunderland, it would be fair to say that Adam Johnson has found himself to be something of a victim of expectation this season. Excitement surrounded his capture from Manchester City in the summer and he has been a staple of Martin O’Neill’s side. With his Wearside roots and natural ability, all the ingredients are there for him to be a talismanic figure at the Stadium of Light.
And yet, he is not loved.
I do not wish to generalise there, of course. There will be those reading this who are huge fans of the former Middlesbrough man. In fact, I am a huge fan myself. We all have a certain kind of footballer that we just find ourselves naturally drawn to and, for me, Adam Johnson absolutely fits that bill. A genuine old-fashioned winger who with a shimmy of the hips here, and a drop of the shoulder there, steals space out of defenders’ own pockets.
But in the stands you never seem to ever be too far away from someone with an articulation of disdain on the tips of their tongue for him.
Take to Twitter or the internet message boards and you will find considerably more criticism directed at him than expressions of appreciation.
I suppose he frustrates many with his inconsistent delivery and occasional inexplicably odd decision- making. His somewhat languid running style won’t endear him to many either. But should these things really matter?
When discussing and assessing players of this ilk, it need only boil down to one thing – product, and Adam Johnson is certainly producing.
For a start he currently has four Premier League goals to his name which is more than Craig Gardner managed in the whole of last season and puts him on track to match or even exceed Seb Larsson’s impressive haul for last season.
Where he is really excelling, however, is in the assists column.
We need to acknowledge, of course, that it one of the more irritating ‘Americanisations’ of our sport and the statistic can be easily misinterpreted, though it does at least give some measure of how much a player is involved in decisive attacks.
No Sunderland player has posted more assists than Johnson has this season, and he has double the number of his nearest midfield competitor at the club.
Even more impressively, though, is that only 11 players in the entire Premier League can boast a greater number of assists than Johnson this season, and all but one of those enjoy the benefit of playing for teams currently sitting in the top seven.
It would be tough to argue with an assertion that Adam Johnson hasn’t yet lived up to the hype at Sunderland. When he arrived he immediately and visibly struggled to come to terms with the demands – both mental and physical – of playing weekly Premier League football. Such is football. Some new signings hit the ground running and some don’t. Neither has to be defining.
But the real question here is whether that hype was fair in the first place. Whether or not the context against which he has been deemed worthy of being judged was realistic. It was something that Martin O’Neill certainly made it clear he was wary of.
“I’m just a little concerned that people might be expecting him to come in and be winning every game for us because that’s not going to be the case”, the Sunderland manager said back in October.
Right now those words are looking ominously prophetic.