It is around about this time every four years that wild English World Cup optimism reaches its peak. This time, though, things are different.
England’s build-up has been more low-key, with expectations lowering as a consequence. Instead of daydreams of unlikely glory, there has instead been a focus on what will go wrong.
A misplaced pass here, a rash tackle there and England’s World Cup will be over, and while it must be incredibly tough for the players who are operating, fans don’t really want to offer any sympathies.
Glen Johnson—England’s only specialist right-back in the final 23-man squad—is a player who has been singled out as a potential weak link. He was caught out a couple of times in the friendly against Peru at Wembley, while Roy Hodgson left him out of the team for the clash with Ecuador, opting instead to play James Milner in an unfamiliar position.
Liverpool supporters aren’t known for taking the matters of the England national team too seriously, but their—often frustrating—experiences of Johnson in the past few years will likely be similar to those of England fans this summer.
As recently as March, Brendan Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce that Johnson is “one of the best full-backs in the world,” and it is clear that, on his day, the 29-year-old possesses a vast amount of ability, it’s just that he has a habit of picking and choosing just when “his day” is.
An ongoing contract issue has hardly helped his relationship with the Liverpool supporters either, and with a year left on his current deal and no signs of any breakthrough in the talks, an uneasy stand-off appears to have developed between the player and club. Sadly, that also appears to have seeped into his performances.
As emotions ran high following the crazy 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace last month, Johnson wasn’t slow to hit back at his critics on Twitter, and you get the sense that this is now a player with something of a chip on his shoulder.
With young talents emerging at Liverpool and, as a direct consequence, with England too, Johnson’s position in both teams is coming more and more under threat.
He’s been earning Champions League-level money at Anfield since joining the club from Portsmouth in 2009, but now the Reds are back in the competition for the first time in those five years, they don’t appear to be too keen to extend the deal of a player who will turn 30 in the second week of the new season.
Despite often excelling at left-back last season, plenty at Liverpool see Jon Flanagan’s future as a right-back, and it would be fascinating to see how much pressure he could put on Johnson for that spot in England’s World Cup squad should he be called up into the final squad in place of the unfortunate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Back at Liverpool, Flanagan will be expecting to be heavily involved in the quest for honours in 2014/15, while Martin Kelly is still at the club and Andre Wisdom will return from his impressive loan spell Derby County.
With Alberto Moreno's arrival from Sevilla seemingly imminent, according to the Daily Mirror, then you’d expect a player of his talent and cost to go straight into the team at left-back, creating a heated battle for the spot on the right.
If Rodgers truly believes that Johnson is “one of the best in the world” at what he does, then the Northern Irishman will want to keep his No. 2 around.
What Johnson needs to do now is knuckle down, forget the Twitter trash talk and use the presence of Flanagan as inspiration to impress.
“One of the best full-backs in the world” needs to have a good World Cup to keep hold of his current status and ensure that Liverpool are happy to try and reach an agreement over a new contract.
Were Johnson to move on from Liverpool, you'd suspect that his career would only go downhill and the World Cup and Champions League could suddenly seem like nothing more than a distant memory.
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