SUNDERLAND have undergone an incredible transformation under Gus Poyet, but to gage just how much of an impact the Uruguayan has made on Wearside you needn’t look any further than Adam Johnson.
Up until three months ago, Johnson had failed to live up to the expectation and excitement his £10m move from Manchester City two years ago created on Wearside, but under Poyet the 26-year-old has been re-born.
Seven goals in his last seven appearances – the latest coming in Saturday’s 3-0 derby win over Newcastle at St James’ Park – has catapulted Johnson right back into the spotlight with various people in the game suggesting the winger should be considered for a part in Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad when England head to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup finals.
In his current form, it would be mad for the England boss not to take a look at the Easington-born midfielder between now and the end of the season, but while plenty, including Poyet, will be clamouring for Johnson’s club performances to be rewarded with a place in the squad, the former Middlesbrough man faces an uphill battle to convince the men that matter.
At the moment, there aren’t many better wide men in the Premier League than Johnson with perhaps the exception of Southampton’s Adam Lallana and the recently fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Hodgson has his favourites and it would take something special for the England boss to deviate from the players he already has in mind.
Theo Walcott’s injury has opened up a slot in England’s attacking department and any further injuries would certainly improve Johnson’s chances of being on the plane to Manaus, but to get anywhere near the squad Johnson will have to continue and probably even better the impressive form he has shown of late.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Johnson to put his case across – most notably the Black Cats’ Capital One Cup final appearance at Wembley next month– but whether the 26-year-old can put himself in Hodgson’s thinking will also depend on whether anyone is watching on a regular basis.
The amount of visits England managers past and present have made to the North-East is a constant frustration for players in the region, but if Hodgson did make a trip to the Stadium of Light, he might just stumble across a very useful component of his squad.
Hodgson gave Johnson his last England start in August 2012, when he played the full 90 minutes of a 2-1 friendly win over Italy. He has been involved in squads during World Cup qualifying since then, but the closest he has come to getting any game time came last October when he was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Poland.
The England boss is obviously aware of what Johnson has to offer, but since the Sunderland man was last involved in a starting XI, several attacking midfielders have moved ahead of him in the pecking order and established themselves as Hodgson players and that is ultimately the reason why Johnson could struggle to get in the squad despite his form.
Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Andros Townsend are all likely to be on the plane to Brazil and given that England look likely to play a variation of a 4-2-3-1 system, Danny Welbeck can also be included as an attacking midfielder having occupied a wider role during qualification.
Walcott’s unavailability poses the question of whether Hodgson will opt to take a fourth centre forward alongside Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert, or whether he takes another attacking midfielder.
If he goes for the second option Johnson would be in with a shout, but there are other wingers that will fancy their chances if they can impress between now and May. Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Lennon and Ashley Young have all been involved in squads recently.
Hodgson has always maintained the idea of picking players, who have played regularly and have shown consistent form for their clubs and interestingly if he keeps his word Johnson would be top of his list provided his performance levels don’t drop.
You could even count him ahead of Townsend at the moment given the fact the Spurs midfielder hasn’t even featured for the first-team since mid-December.
Whether Johnson ends up being part of Hodgson’s summer plans remains to be seen, but his squad for next month’s international friendly against Denmark will give a better idea of how high up the Sunderland winger is on the international scene.