News of Michael Johnson’s failed football career at Manchester City is making the rounds following the Guardian’s expose this morning. The story is familiar, if not revelatory:
Michael Johnson, once tipped as an England international and one of the best young players to emerge through Manchester City’s academy in the past decade, has been paid off from his contract after the club finally ran out of patience with him.
Johnson, convicted of two drink-driving offences last September, was offered a severance package from his £40,000-a-week contract just before Christmas, after several years of decline. The club decided not to announced it publicly but it has come to light now after a photograph of the 24-year-old appeared on the internet looking bloated and unfit.
European football culture is inherently conservative. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s Soccermen detailed for example the failure of several leading football clubs to treat the psychological needs of new, non-native English-speaking arrivals at various professional clubs, which often leads to significant problems down the line. It’s hard to believe that it was only 1996 when Arsene Wenger first arrived at Arsenal and pushed then unfashionable notion that footballers would improve with a sensible diet.
Each individual club is different, but it’s safe to say many clubs have not adequately addressed the issues of indiscipline, alcohol abuse, and addiction among younger prospects. Modern footballers are often young men who have lived an unnaturally long time away from their families, coming of age in an often cut-throat academy system designed to identify future professionals and weed out the rest. Upon successfully navigating the system, these young players are often offered contracts for many millions of pounds with no oversight or advice in how to invest/spend.
We’re often quick to praise players with an inherent work ethic and self-control, and condemn those who party late instead of training, but it’s not at all clear the clubs are doing enough to support their wayward employees.
This is both a moral and professional issue. Who’s to say Michael Johnson could not have improved his form with the active intervention of professional psychologists, and regular mentorship? It’s certainly possible Manchester City did all they could to help the player, but there are many Michael Johnson’s in football who clearly are not getting the help they need.