Roger Johnson has exacting high standards that will simply not allow Birmingham City to be relegated to the Championship once more; he will instead face adversity head on and come out on top, then go again. Having guided unfancied sides to cup finals on two occasions, he gave the impression that he was one of the few that actually believed that they could cause an upset and climb the Wembley steps as victors. On the losing side in the 2008 FA Cup Final, Portsmouth beating Cardiff City 1-0, he sat on the pitch disconsolate as Portsmouth collected the trophy, his expectations not matched by the preceding performance. Three years later, he was wildly celebrating a giant killing as Birmingham beat Arsenal in the Carling Cup Final. The fact that he got there in the end should surprise no one.
His game is not without its faults. An early tendency to go to ground too often appears to have been ironed out but his distribution could be better and, not powerfully built for a centre back, he can also be out-muscled on occasion. Johnson compensates by defending aggressively, putting his body on the line, showing the brand of passion that fan favourites are made of, with player of the year awards at both Wycombe and Cardiff attesting for that.
Having joined Wycombe Wanderers at 15, Johnson made his senior debut at barely 17 and quickly became a fixture in the side and eventually captain. Tony Adams became manager in 2003 and the pair clashed. Adams stripped Johnson of the captaincy and frequently played him out of position. When Adams’ unsuccessful spell ended, new manager John Gorman returned Johnson to central defence as captain. In the lead up to the FA Cup Final, with Adams on the Portsmouth coaching staff, Johnson still bristled at the memory of this episode in his career. “He’s on a long list of people who said I wouldn’t make it,” commented Johnson, demonstrating the drive that has propelled his career from League 2 to the Premier League.
Roger Johnson and Scott Dann were bought by Alex McLeish to solidify Birmingham’s defence upon their return to the Premiership last season. The pair received rave reviews as the club achieved a 9th place finish. Both now heading towards the final year of their contracts, interested parties are beginning to circle. McLeish recently praised the pair, suggesting that Johnson is worthy of an international call up. “Roger has played down the divisions for a few years and is now 27, and he doesn’t want it to pass him by,” said McLeish. “He is desperate to play for England and when you look at some of the other players who have been touted, I think Roger is definitely capable of being named in that bunch of players and easily capable of playing.” You wouldn’t bet against it.
Birmingham moved out of the relegation places with a 2-1 win over Bolton at the weekend and now face three games over the Easter period which look like deciding their fate; trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield followed by a derby with Wolves at St Andrews. With Dann absent until next season, Johnson will need to stand up and be counted if Birmingham are to secure their Premiership status. He wouldn’t have it any other way.