When thinking up blog subjects for the season ahead, ‘the redemption of Roger Johnson’ wouldn’t have been one I’ve had envisaged planning, writes Wolves blogger Tim Spiers.
Just a few short months ago our bedraggled then-captain was the nearest thing to a hate figure at Molineux.
Rightly castigated for showing an appalling attitude as things went belly-up in our disastrous Premier League campaign, Johnson’s Wolves career was seemingly heading up a cul-de-sac to the point of no return.
Turning up worse for wear for training was the tip of the iceberg, but there were also strong rumours of dressing rooms spats (particular with Karl Henry) and a very public barney with Wayne Hennessey.
His demeanour after being dropped by Terry Connor was disgraceful at times.
When warming up as a sub at half time he barely spoke to his team mates and slumped off early back to the dressing room.
And anyone who was at Wigan on the final day of the season would have seen a player-supporter relationship on its knees.
Loud boos from the away end greeting Johnson as he strutted down the touchline when warming up.
In mockery the Wigan fans applauded him and that applause was reciprocated while, when the squad made its way onto the field for an end-of-season goodbye, Johnson stayed in the dressing room.
But it wasn’t the unsavoury incidents and his poor conduct that were the main problems.
They would have been easier to forgive had his form on the pitch not been atrocious, with several conceded goals the direct result of his individual mistakes.
Two dreadful displays against the old enemy, in particular at the Hawthorns when he was run ragged by Shane Long, hardly endeared him to supporters either.
His exit in the summer, then, seemed a mere formality.
But rumours of his next destination – a tenuous link to West Ham aside – were lacking and with Stale Solbakken talking of fresh starts the door was left ajar for Johnson to stay.
And, against all odds, Johnson has begun to redeem himself, to the extent that his name is regularly sung from the terraces.
He now hates Brummies again, according to the South bank and used be rubbish but is now alright, ala Jody Craddock.
So what’s brought about this startling change in fortunes?
Chiefly his performances have improved tenfold, albeit at a lower level.
As he did for the first few games of last season, Johnson looks commanding, strong and – most importantly – committed to the cause.
His natural leadership skills have come to the fore and he can regularly be seen barking orders at his team mates.
His concentration levels are high, he plays the ball out calmly and has made some excellent and brave last ditch tackles and blocks.
The manager must take great credit for offering an olive branch – if Mick McCarthy was still manager Johnson would surely have been out the door, but Solbakken’s measured, calm and diligent approach was exactly what the defender needed.
So for now it’s happy families, which can only be good news for our promotion prospects.
On his day he’s the best centre half in our squad by a country mile so a fit and happy Johnson is vital if we’re to trouble the top six.
Wisely the man himself has stayed tight-lipped about his redemption, and his torturous 2011-12 season, and most importantly his feelings towards the fans who vilified him.
Crass badge kissing and cringeworthy love-this-club sentiments are not called for right now.
We know he’s struggled to settle at Molineux so anything over-the-top or PR-spun wouldn’t go down well.
Graft, honesty and hard work – traits McCarthy would have loved him to show – are all that’s required.
His motivation for staying can be questioned (apparently he is the highest earner at the club and the only one who didn’t have an automatic wage reduction upon relegation), but if he’s performing on the pitch then that’s the bottom line.
Don’t forget, he will have been bitterly stung by last season’s events, with his reputation on the floor before suffering the indignity of being stripped of the captaincy.
And it can’t have been easy to return to the dressing room for pre-season training to face his team mates, many of whom will probably blame him for the disharmony caused last season.
With the wages he’s on sympathy doesn’t stretch too far, mind.
But whatever the reasons for staying, it’s just nice to have some harmony at Molineux again with a very good central defender marshalling the troops.
You won’t hear me singing his name just yet, but long may his redemption continue.Subscribe to our Newsletter