Liverpool haven't offered me a new contract yet but I'd stay here for life
Glen Johnson is explaining why Brendan Rodgers is a better manager than Jose Mourinho.
‘It was difficult for me under Jose at Chelsea because there was a moment when he said I deserved to play on merit,’ he recalls. ‘He said if I played well in the next game I would play the week after. I got man of the match so he couldn’t drop me.
‘Then in the next game he said the same thing and I got man of the match again. Then we had another game and after that Barcelona. I remember speaking to my agent and saying, “He won’t play me in this game because if I play well then he has to play me against Barcelona”, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
‘He didn’t play me in that game and from that moment I just lost it and thought, “Well, how am I meant to respect you now? It’s just finished”.
‘Brendan wouldn’t do that. He’s shown that if you’re good enough you’re old enough and you’ll play in the big games if you deserve to. So in terms of man-management, Brendan is definitely better.’
While Johnson’s time at Chelsea — or specifically, his time there under Mourinho — is the only period of a 12-year top-flight career about which he harbours regrets, it did afford him the chance to work with Rodgers, whose star quality, Johnson says, was already obvious.
‘You could see he had aims to become a manager,’ he says. ‘He was travelling all over the place to pick up new techniques from coaches and obviously he was fortunate enough to work for Mourinho.
Mourinho is one of the best in the world and I would never say he’s not because of what happened between us. But Brendan is different to Jose, he has his own mentality and is definitely one of the best.’
Liverpool have improved dramatically this campaign. At this stage last season they were 29 points off top spot compared to only four now and Johnson believes Rodgers deserves credit for sticking with his philosophy, even when results weren’t going their way.
‘Some managers like the thought of playing the way Brendan does but haven’t got the confidence or knowhow to pull it off. Others would probably have panicked and changed their philosophy just to try and win. But Brendan was mentally strong enough and knew what he was trying to implement was right and that once we grabbed hold of it we would be a success.’
And so it has proved. Liverpool may be, in Rodgers’ words, the ‘chihuahuas’ of the title race but Johnson is adamant they deserve to be taken seriously as contenders.
Moreover, he can see similarities between this Liverpool team and the Chelsea team he was part of which won two Premier League titles under Mourinho.
‘We believe we can win every game and I remember having that feeling at Chelsea,’ recalls the 29-year-old right back as he relaxes at Melwood after training. ‘The first year we won the title (2005) we could be losing 2-0 and still think we would win, and we usually would. That was confidence at its peak and we are moving towards that at Liverpool.
‘You have to believe you can win the league and until there are not enough points available we’ll keep thinking we can. We’ve got 10 cup finals, really, because we can’t afford to lose games or drop many points because Manchester City and Chelsea won’t.
‘City are favourites because they could field a second team that would be competitive, and you can’t compete with that. So we will need a bit of luck but we are definitely good enough.
‘Our goal at the start of the season was to finish in the top four and that is still our minimum aim. Finishing third, second or winning the title is a bonus but we are in a good position.’
So, where has this dramatic improvement come from? Johnson, who will win his 50th England cap against Denmark, insists it is natural evolution rather than behind-the-scenes revolution. ‘The character and mentality in this squad are different,’ he says. ‘There were games last season when we battered teams and didn’t get results. We’ve got more of a killer instinct this year.
‘In previous seasons, when Stoke (in January) pegged us back to 2-2, people would have crumbled or not felt relaxed enough to play their own game and we might have drawn or even lost. So to score five and get three points at a ground where we hadn’t won in the Premier League was a big statement. We are a different side now.’
Johnson, it seems, has been a different player, too. A runaway success last season, he knows he has been below-par this time but refuses to blame it solely on his struggles with injury, although he admits he played through the pain for three months.
Ultimately the strain of three injuries — the most concerning being a torn ankle ligament — became too great and he was forced to take five weeks off before returning to action last Saturday.
‘It was mentally tough because I want to perform how I’m used to and know I’m capable of doing, but my ankle was blocked so much that I couldn’t run properly. I couldn’t move it more than 90 degrees so when I was running I was basically limping.
‘Brendan was aware of the injuries but he was asking me to do a job for the team and every footballer wants to play.
‘At first I could play with the injuries but it got to the point where across all three it was affecting my performance and it was time to stop. Now I feel miles better. I’ve got that flexibility back in my ankle and I can run properly.’
Johnson is not trying to make excuses and he accepts some of the criticism which has come his way is justified. However, he laughs off the suggestions of those who doubt his ability to defend.
‘I know I could have had a better season,’ he admits. ‘But you can’t play 12 years in the Premier League and not have a bad couple of weeks. I’m my biggest critic and I don’t need to be told when I’m playing badly.
‘You don’t get 49 England caps, play in World Cups and European Championships, you don’t win the Premier League twice, the League Cup twice and the FA Cup if you can’t defend. It’s that simple.
‘No disrespect, but you’d be in the Championship.’
Johnson has revealed Liverpool are yet to open discussions with him over a new contract.
His deal expires next summer and it has been suggested his wages, reported to be more than £110,000 a week, are proving a problem.
Johnson wants to see out his career at Liverpool and admits the speculation is distracting.
He said: 'I've loved every minute of the five years I've been here and I'd love to stay but really the only truth in it is that I've not been offered a new contract on any level.
'I know some people have been saying Liverpool don't want to pay me my current wages, but I've not heard that. No-one has come to me from Liverpool at all. I don't know the situation the club are in or if they want to renew it. So I've not got a decision to make other than to see my contract out because no-one is telling me any different.
'It is an unnecessary distraction. I'm more than happy to sign a new contract and I'd love to stay here for many more years. But at the moment that is not for me to decide because I've not been offered anything and I've not been told I'm going to be sold.
'I just have to honour my contract and try not to let it distract me.'
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