Sometimes, the present you want doesn’t turn out to be that good
#12: ROGER JOHNSON
Signed: July 2011 from Birmingham, £5,000,000
Left: January 2015, contract cancelled
He was: The worst guest imaginable
Having survived by the skin of our teeth in 2010/11, it was apparent that Mick McCarthy needed to work on our defence if we wanted to avoid that scenario again. Jody Craddock had been an excellent servant for us and despite multiple attempts to replace him – during his time here he had seen off the challenges of Darren Ward, Jason Shackell, Ronald Zubar, Michael Mancienne and Steven Mouyokolo – with him now 36, it really was time to move on. Gloriously, we survived at the expense of Birmingham City and attention turned to their very own Roger Johnson.
From the outset, I can say that right after the full time whistle of the Blackburn game on the final day, he was my number one target. I’m sure many others felt the same. We had seen him play for Cardiff and Birmingham; we knew him to be a strong centre half, good in the air and a leader. In 2009/10 he had been part of a defence that conceded just 47 goals – an excellent record for a newly promoted team – and had been sporadically touted for an England call up. He seemed to be exactly what we wanted and needed and for once the club delivered, as he signed on 11 July 2011 for a fee of £5,000,000. This looked to be the lynchpin we could base our defence around for years and he was immediately made captain, taking over from Karl Henry who had filled the role since 2007.
Some things are too good to be true and this proved to be one of those occasions. Right at the outset of this series, I set up the criteria for inclusion:
– An obviously bad idea from the outset
– A massive let down relative to expectations, due to the player’s own failings
– Ditched at a large financial loss
– Negligible positive impact at any stage of their Wolves career
– Openly damaging to the club with their very presence
As it turned out, Johnson ended up fitting four of those categories. He did actually start very well, turning in decent performances against Blackburn, Fulham and Aston Villa at the beginning of 2011/12, but as the team’s form went south, so did his. He was practically unrecognisable from what we’d seen at his previous clubs. He had a really strange build for a centre half; rake thin and almost gaunt looking, this led to him being easily outmuscled. We weren’t expecting Mats Hummels type skillz on the ball when he arrived, but his distribution was shockingly poor. He was slow, he constantly made the wrong call – diving into challenges when he didn’t need to, backing off to a ludicrous extent when he should have been making a tackle – and wasn’t showing much by way of leadership. He also had a terrible tendency to show attackers inside towards goal rather than shepherding them away from the danger area; just basic defending.
With us on a run of eight defeats in ten games, enough was finally enough for Mick and he dropped Johnson for the home game against Sunderland, recalling…you guessed it, Jody Craddock. He performed reasonably well, despite conceding a very harsh penalty, but unfortunately picked up a hamstring injury in the final 20 minutes and that would prove to be his final game for Wolves. Johnson came back into the team for lack of viable options if nothing else and little had really changed; the demotion hadn’t given Johnson the kick up the backside that it was intended to, and we couldn’t buy a win, save for a Djibril Cisse-inspired implosion by QPR in January. Following Mick’s departure after the 1-5 humilation at home to West Brom, interim boss Terry Connor decided to favour a partnership of Christophe Berra and loan signing Sébastien Bassong with Johnson once again left on the bench. Our captain’s reaction to this was to get steaming drunk after we lost 5-0 at Fulham where he was an unused sub, and turn up for training on the Monday still hammered. Outstanding professionalism. He was naturally fined and only played two games for the remainder of the season, the latter one being at home to Bolton where he suffered the indignity of being dribbled past by Kevin Davies. Kevin Davies hadn’t even tried to run past anyone since about 2002. But he breezed past our Rog on his way to scoring in yet another awful home defeat. Johnson also decided to have a blazing row with Wayne Hennessey in the middle of a game, which showed us how harminous the dressing room was. Thanks, Mr Leader. As we know, we were eventually relegated by some distance.
Back in the Championship, Johnson was formally stripped of the captaincy but equally given a fresh start under Stale Solbakken; bizarrely, the crowd were right behind him at the start of 2012/13, even giving him his own chant. We started the season reasonably well although there was much consternation about Solbakken’s insistence on playing a very high line with Johnson and Berra as his centre halves – akin to setting up a band and installing Ringo Starr as your singer and Liam Gallagher as your drummer, it’s just all wrong. Results tailed off and it was the same old Johnson with the same flaws. Unsurprisingly, Dean Saunders was not the man to shake him out of this funk; indeed, he was almost cuckolded by Johnson’s presence. After Johnson got sent off against Blackpool at the end of January, Danny Batth came in to the team alongside new loan signing Kaspars Gorkss. Which left Saunders with a conundrum; drop the youngster who had done perfectly well in the last three games, drop your own loan signing or leave out the senior pro? It’s best not to try to apply any logic to what Dean Saunders did; you have to ask yourself the question “if I were a dribbling idiot with the managerial capacity of an aadvark, what would I do?”. The answer to that of course is to set up in a home game where we really needed to win with a back three, which we’d never played or practiced so you avoid making an actual decision, then when you’re inevitably losing, haul the youngster off and don’t pick him again for the rest of the season. Nice one Dean. The Johnson-Gorkss axis helped us along to a whole two clean sheets in the subsequent twelve games and given that it was possibly the clunkest, slowest, least able centre half partnership that I’ve ever seen at Wolves, it wasn’t that great a shock that we were relegated. Thanks again, Dean. No really. I especially like the way you abdicate all responsibility for it now whenever you’re asked about your time here. The tint of dark humour was that on the final day, Johnson offered his shirt to the travelling fans at Brighton and no-one wanted to take it.
When the time came to remove poisonous elements from the dressing room with the arrival of Kenny Jackett, it was no surprise that Johnson was the prime candidate and so he was sent to train away from the first team squad. Refusing to play in the U21 games – don’t want to damage that ego, Rog – he eventually secured a loan move to Sheffield Wednesday where he made a reasonably favourable impression and then incomprehensibly reappeared in the Premier League, as pint of wine guzzling keynote speaker Sam Allardyce snapped him up in January on another loan. His spell at West Ham was primarily notable for two reasons; firstly, the Hammers choosing to mark his arrival with the hashtag “#WelcomeRG” and a hilarious piece of backing off against Manchester City’s Yaya Toure on the way to a 6-0 defeat in the League Cup. He was back here ahead of the 2014/15 season and with all of the other outcasts now gone, he was training on his own in the afternoons; he saw fit to give a sob story to Soccer AM along the way, as if none of this was his fault. He refused to walk away given the money due to him which is understandable I suppose, given he must have known that he was on the last big payday of his career. We eventually came to a settlement on the remainder of his deal in January 2015 and he swiftly joined Charlton, playing 14 games for them before jetting off to the footballing hotspot of the Indian Super League and joining Pune City. He rejoined Charlton in January 2016, unable to save them from relegation to the third tier; on the opening day of this season, he reportedly told their fans to “fuck off and don’t come” in the wake of a defeat to Bury, and he hasn’t made a league appearance since. So it’s all still going well for our man.
We’ve gone through a variety of awful signings in this series that were shocking for a variety of reasons. I would say that Roger Johnson is the very worst of the lot. He came for a big fee with a high reputation and an attitude to match, but turned out to be one of the very worst defenders you can imagine who actively harmed the dressing room and was the polar opposite of what we were expecting. Everything that could go wrong with this transfer did go wrong. And yet, unlike some of the previously featured characters, you couldn’t really fault the management on this one. He seemed a really obvious signing. We paid the money for him and stuck him on big wages. He just didn’t deliver, and it was down to his own attitude (and as it turns out, a massive steep decline in terms of ability which no-one saw coming).
So, there it is, the end of the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them, although when I started I anticipated a total word count of maybe 12,000 words across the whole thing – it’s ended up being about triple that. It was hard to cut the series down to twelve so some dishonourable mentions come to the following who came very close to making the cut (and no doubt I’ll be writing about some of them in the future); <deep breath>….Kevin Ashley, Paul Stancliffe, Greg Halford, Paul Blades, Cedric Roussel, Darren Ward, Steve Corica, Steve Sedgley, Freddy Eastwood, Ronald Zubar, Nigel Quashie, Marlon Harewood, Rob Hindmarch, Mixu Paatelainen, Conor Coady, Simon Coleman, Manuel Thetis, Robert Niestroj, Silas, Temuri Ketsbaia, Eggert Jonsson and Nathan Byrne.
I’ll be taking a short break over the next week, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers the very Merriest of Christmases and a safe and happy 2017. I really do appreciate all the support you’ve given me since I started this blog and I hope to carry on in the same vein next year.