Does Glen Johnson Deserve New Contract or Should Liverpool Look to Improve?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Glen Johnson of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield on August 17, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

How many turns can a player's career take in the space of a week?

At the beginning of November, Glen Johnson was forced to miss the defeat to Arsenal, Liverpool's first away loss of the season, on account of a jaw infection.

Boss Brendan Rodgers drafted in Jon Flanagan to play as wing-back, with Martin Kelly still not considered fit enough after his year-long lay-off.

The young defender played relatively well defensively, but there was a noticeable absence of penetration down that flank in the absence of Johnson. Missing the usual first choice was lamented by many, but before kick-off of the next game, at home to Fulham on Saturday, Johnson's future featured in the media amid reports of his contract not being renewed:

The Reds were great today, Need to get Glen Johnson new contract sorted, Would be a travesty to let him go, Massive player for us đź‘Ť

— Darren Farley (@DFImpressionist) November 9, 2013

James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo reported that the Reds owners could be reluctant to offer him an extended deal on the same terms as he currently earns—around the same wage bracket as first-team captain Steven Gerrard, star forward Luis Suarez and vice captain Daniel Agger.

Saturday's match and Johnson's performance against Fulham, though, put him once again in the spotlight for the fans after 90 minutes of excellence in creating chances and sterling defensive work.


Rodgers' Admiration

Johnson is clearly a first pick for the manager when available, and Rodgers has lamented his absence in the past, as per ESPN FC:

Glen is the type of player [without whom] you don’t realise what you’re missing until he is not in the team. It will be great when we get him back.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24:  Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers in good spirits with Glen Johnson and Stewart Downing during a training session ahead of their UEFA Europa League group match against FC Anzhi Makhachkala at Melwood Training Ground on Oc
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Johnson's current contract has only 18 months left to run, meaning he will very likely either get a new deal or be moved on between now and next summer. Liverpool will not want to lose him on a free transfer the year after, so even a reduced fee in the summer would be preferable to enable the manager to reinvest.

Whether as an attacking full-back or in the recent wing-back system, Johnson offers plenty to Liverpool's team, and Rodgers is sure to want to keep him—though that does not necessarily mean he will if Johnson demands more money than the club's owners are willing to offer.


Consistency and Quality?

Johnson has always been an excellent source of chances from the right side of the Reds' attack, as he has both the physical capacity to get forward all game long and also the technical ability to make the most of the possession he has in the final third.

There have long been questions of whether he can match his offensive output in his defensive duties, however.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19:  Cheik Ismael Tiote of Newcastle United and Glen Johnson of Liverpool battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on October 19, 2013 in N
Julian Finney/Getty Images

This is not always borne out in his actual defensive contribution, though, rather a reputation which many take as gospel. Johnson is by no means a perfect defender; his natural instinct is to attack first, and because of that—and the tactics he is asked to employ—he is often hurrying back into position defensively or else, when Liverpool are under pressure, spending long periods performing what is not his primary function.

Johnson is consistent in what he offers the Reds going forward in terms of link-up play and being a constant outlet down the channels, but his end product can certainly vary from game to game or half to half—much like many wide attackers, to be fair.


Can Liverpool Improve on Johnson?

The biggest question in terms of the decision of retaining Johnson or not is: Can Liverpool improve on Glen Johnson at right-back?

Selling Johnson for £5 million and saving around £110,000 per week is one thing, but if Liverpool do what they have done too often in recent years—replace a top player with an inferior one—then saving money makes no difference. League points and positions is what the move will cost the Reds.

It is understandable that, in a period where the Reds are generally looking to youth prospects to strengthen their side over the coming seasons, the hierarchy would hesitate over offering a big, long-term deal to what will be an almost-31-year-old.

If they are reluctant to do so, a major prerogative of the scouting team for this year has to be identifying a top-class and, crucially, attainable right-back who can replace him.

It's unlikely that anything will happen in that regard in the coming transfer window, but if it does, we might have a clue as to the future of Johnson.