For several seasons, Glen Johnson has been the undisputed and immediate first-choice for both club and country in his favoured right-back position. The Liverpool and England international has been a regular this term, as usual, but his run in the side appears to be over after manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed he had suffered an ankle problem.
That in itself is nothing untoward—but Rodgers' manner and words describing Johnson's impending absence from the team left rather more questions unanswered. As per LiverpoolFC.com:
The timeline he'll be out will be indefinitely, really. We'll just need to assess that and see how quickly he comes through that. He's had a real bad ankle for a period of time, and just one or two other issues that haven't allowed him to be 100 per cent.
So, a sudden arising of an ongoing ankle injury nobody was aware of, "one or two other issues" and not even the slightest semblance of a time for Johnson to return to the team.
Murky, muddy waters indeed.
Johnson's form of late has been, to say the least, erratic. He was missed against Arsenal in a November defeat, played well upon his return, but since then has been on very much a downward trend. Players lose form and certainly an injury could exacerbate that, but there has been no indication of the No. 2 suffering at any point.
On the contrary, he has played 90 minutes in almost 12 matches in a row, save for being substituted with eight minutes to play in one fixture during that run and around the hour mark in another.
Speculation and guesswork might not be helpful, but it doesn't take a genius to realise with little more than a year left on Glen Johnson's contract, the club would be looking to renew or sell him in the summer.
As a player who will be just a month or two off age 31 when his present deal runs out (and as one of Liverpool's highest earners), it further doesn't take a huge leap of deduction to imagine the club might be wanting to lower his salary, or at least structure it differently based on achievements and bonuses. And, naturally, the player himself might not be particularly happy about such a suggestion.
Professionalism and expectation should dictate that any such off-pitch quibbles are put to one side once the whistle sounds, but Johnson has been nothing short of abject in several recent fixtures, to the point that Jon Flanagan is suddenly regarded by supporters as the best or most in-form full-back on the club's books.
Not a situation most would have envisaged in August.
As such, whether this potential change in attitude, the sudden and surprising injury or a general but genuine dip in form have contributed to Johnson's poor fortunes in a Red shirt of late, he has been poor enough to warrant being taken out of the side regardless.
With just 16 Premier League matches left and no time frame on his return, there must be the possibility that he will have very few more opportunities to prove his form—and fitness, of course—before the end of the season. If the decision on his club future hasn't already been taken, there's not much chance he'll convince the powers above to give him a better deal if he's not showing he deserves one.
And not only that, but England are right now five months away from the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. If Johnson cannot prove his capacity to play at the top of his game by then, Roy Hodgson will have to look elsewhere for a first-choice right-back for the tournament, possibly even for a backup too. Heading into his 30s then with two players in front of him, that could well be it for Johnson's international career.
This should arguably be the pinnacle of his Liverpool and England career; an improved campaign where he helps the team back into the challengers at the top of the league, a World Cup and then Champions League football next year
Instead, continue down this road and it's all looking like going horribly wrong for Glen Johnson.