Date: 28th August 2012 at 3:24am
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Adam Johnson’s departure for Sunderland is a significant milestone in the Roberto Mancini era writes VMC’s Sedgie…

The Italian had already brought Patrick Vieira in when he ‘launched a raid’ (copyright every tabloid in recent memory) to secure Johnson’s services, but Mancini knew all about the Frenchman’s talents – so Johnson was his first ‘proper’ signing at City.

His first sighting of Johnson in the flesh probably came on a truly Baltic afternoon on Teeside a few weeks earlier, when City took on ‘Boro in the third round of the FA Cup. It was blink-and-you’ll-have-missed-it stuff, as the winger lasted around half-an-hour before an injury saw him hauled off. This is probably where Brian Marwood’s role came to the fore. The much-discussed chief of football operations (or whatever) would have used his knowledge of English football and contacts to alert Mancini to Johnson’s talents – and availability.

It was a win-win all round – City’s fee of £7m (ish) did not break the bank, ‘Boro would have been happy to get some money in having dropped out of the top flight, and Johnson had the chance to strut his stuff on a bigger stage.

And by and large it went pretty well to begin with. Johnson’s first City goal, one that secured a late draw on his native Wearside, was a real cracker. Watching on TV, I was just thinking, ‘What’s he crossed it for?’ when it curled into the top corner to stop that thought in its tracks. And in many ways, that set a trend for Johnson at City – sublime moments mixed in with questionable choices – but you were never in doubt over his talent.

But talent only gets you so far and Mancini, a hard taskmaster, never seemed to see Johnson as one of his ‘go to’ guys, as they say in Marketing – and as they almost certainly say in Marketing at City these days. Only rarely did the left-footed Johnson play on the left, his trademark move being the cut in from the right to get on the good foot, so to speak. The state of wing-play in England has been a hot topic (hot topic!!!! – A.Partridge) for decades, and Johnson could only seem to do one thing – whereas strikers like Balotelli and Bellamy can be moved out wide as well as play down the middle.

Maybe Johnson should have read the runes, and also heeded coded warnings from Mancini over his lifestyle (Adam’s not Roberto’s!). His tactical removal from the home game against Villarreal – which to be fair he accepted much better than Gareth Barry at Swansea, for example – indicated that he was going to be vulnerable, and that he would have to come up with something exceptional to demand a place in Mancini’s thinking.

He became increasingly peripheral, scoring in some of the easier wins last season against Norwich home & away, and Stoke at home. It just seemed he was not the player Mancini would turn to when the chips were down, and he barely figured in that storming title-clinching run-in.

But I’m sad that he’s gone. I guess I’m old-fashioned, in that I like tricky, clever players. But it seems you need a sledgehammer to crack a nut, rather than Johnson’s rapier thrusts down the flank. In an ideal world he would have stayed to give City options, but in a strange twist of fate Mancini’s first big buy turned out not to be ‘a Roberto Mancini player.’

Maybe Martin O’Neill will coax better results out of Johnson – his approach to man-management is very different to Mancini’s. Either way, Johnson will certainly have a point to prove when the Black Cats visit the Etihad Stadium on 6th October.

UPCOMING GAMES:
all times East Manchester

Sa 01 Sep 17h30 QPR, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15 Sep 15h00 Stoke, The Britannia Stadium, PL
Su 23 Sep 16h00 Arsenal, The Etihad, PL
Sa 29 Sep 15h00 Fulham, Craven Cottage, PL

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE:

The draw for the 2012/13 Champions League Group Stage will take place in Monaco this Thursday, 30th August @ 18h00 CET. The opening round of games will kick off in the week commencing Monday, 17th September.