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Manchester City and Premier League Must Heed Warning of Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is congratulated by former Manchester City teammates Vincent Kompany and Shaun Wright-Phillips after his goal against Scunthorpe in October 2009.
Michael Johnson is congratulated by former Manchester City teammates Vincent Kompany and Shaun Wright-Phillips after his goal against Scunthorpe in October 2009.Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterJanuary 16, 2013

Manchester City are the reigning Premier League champions, fuelled by the financial clout of the Abu Dhabi United Group and its owner Sheikh Mansour and can count star names such as Carlos Tevez, Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero on their roster.

But the story of former City midfielder Michael Johnson will act as a stark warning to everyone at the club and at other Premier League clubs that not all that glitters will turn to gold.

Johnson signed for City in 2004 at the age of 16 and rose through the ranks to a lucrative five-year contract and a regular first-team spot.

Johnson made his first-team debut in a 4-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic in October 2006 but did not feature again until March 2007 when he lined up against Middlesbrough, which began a run of seven successive matches with the first team before a hamstring injury halted his progress.

But City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who once claimed he would not swap Johnson for Steven Gerrard, saw the potential of the midfielder and turned to him again at the start of the following campaign, although an abdominal problem saw him sidelined for several weeks during the season.

Eriksson left the club in the summer of 2008 to be replaced by Mark Hughes. But the Welshman also recognised Johnson as a future star and only the re-emergence of his stomach injury prevented him becoming a regular alongside Elano and Stephen Ireland in the City midfield.

Now, though, the takeover of the club by Sheikh Mansour was completed and names such as Robinho were joining City.

Johnson's appearances remained sporadic due to injury, however, and he played and scored in his last game for City in a League Cup tie against Scunthorpe United in October 2009.

A serious knee injury in December 2010 kept him off the game until Eriksson took him to Leicester City on a season-long loan deal, where another injury curtailed his stay after nine games.

Johnson was another item in the "whatever happened to him?" basket until this week when it emerged that City had paid up his contract, which would end in June, and released the 24-year-old midfielder.

Johnson admitted in an interview with the Manchester Evening News that mental health problems had played their part in his career decline.

In September, the Daily Star reported Johnson had been banned from drink-driving for three years, prompting campaigners to tell the M.E.N. that authorities had to clamp down on Premier League players in driving offenses.

Johnson's career decline is nothing new in a world where mental health conditions have affected star names such as Stan Collymore, whose Twitter feed outlined his battle against the condition as reported by the Daily Telegraph in November 2011.

Former England international Paul Gascoigne outlined his own decline to the Mirror and Hannover and Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide in November 2009 as reported in The Guardian.

The Professional Footballers' Association has its own support system in place and acted in the wake of Gary Speed's death in November 2011 as the BBC reported.

True, there is some understanding in an every-day man or woman claiming that a well-paid footballer cannot feel the same pressures as the normal family struggling to keep a roof over their heads in the current economic climate.

But every profession has its own challenges and every role will have its stresses and strains.

Money can't buy you love someone once sang, and it doesn't necessarily dictate happiness and peace of mind for anyone either.

Michael Johnson will be just one of the first people in a long list to tell you that.

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