With the impending celebration of the birth of a man who could turn water into wine, it seems apt to discuss the magical talents of another bearded messiah. Only yesterday, Paul Doyle in the Guardian mused that Birmingham City – not the banal Blackburn, woeful Wigan or withering West Ham – were most in danger of boring their fans into relegation. In it he argues that Blues ‘have little creativity…no cutting edge…[and] no pace’. Truth is, I’ve known this for years. So have many of Big Eck’s/Steve Bruce’s detractors. But then, Doyle probably hasn’t seen Roger Johnson – sometime bearded messiah – because there is no single player with more ‘cutting edge’ than Big Rog.
If Joe Hart took all the plaudits for Birmingham City’s performances last year, it was at Johnson’s (and Scott Danns’) expense. Since signing for £5million at the start of Blues’ first season back in the Big Time, Johnson has consistently performed. As part of a Birmingham team who went 12 games unbeaten in 2009/10, and as part of a defence who have prevented Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool from scoring this season; the Ashford-born centre-back is the backbone, the enforcer, and a man-mountain in an otherwise impotent side (Cameron Jerome wouldn’t make it into these pages even if he challenged Sarwan Singh to a beard-off). I watched him play at Bolton this season (where he scored his first goal for the club), and if there’s one man that can rival Kevin Davies in the heading stakes, it’s Johnson.
He started out at Wycombe Wanderers having made his first-team debut 10 years ago, and was unfortunate enough to have Tony Adams as manager for a short time (under whom he was picked inconsistently). Having been a hit with the fans there, he made his way to Cardiff City for £275,000, where he forced his way into the side at the expense of ex-Blue-boy Darren Purse. Now at 27, Roger Johnson has his sights set on an England debut, and personally, I’m surprised he hasn’t had a call-up yet. Few others would dispute his class, and his enthusiasm for the game (and defending more precisely) is startlingly obvious. In the BBC article linked above, Big Rog puts it in his own words;
“I love the whole package of being a defender. I love tackling, heading, blocking. I like the challenge and the battle. I’m fairly aggressive in my play and that’s what defending is all about.”
When John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and Phil Jagielka are all plagued by injury, poor form, tabloid exposes, and infrequent showings; Roger Johnson looks like a sure fire bet for a place in Capello’s next squad (away at Denmark in February). Moreover, in the true FwB spirit, I reckon Roger has another card up his sleeve (and one I’m hoping he’ll play a little more this season); and that’s his penchant for growing a bit of stubble. Although, I must admit, it’s not too easy to track down some of his bearded moments, with the picture above clipped from a rare TV interview, and other photos – whilst showing him characteristically throwing himself about on the football field – also have him (disappointingly) snapped clean shaven…
So the next time the Guardian decide to run a feature on Birmingham (which might not be a while), whilst I don’t expect it’ll be about Blues’ unstoppable run of 5 goal thrillers, I do hope it’ll be on Roger Johnson’s outright ability, unrivalled passion for the game, and an upcoming England squad call-up. Maybe by that time Alex McLeish will have dropped Jerome, retired Carr, flogged Zigic, and held Johnson up as the new Messiah. Merry Christmas!