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Stale Solbakken happy to let Roger Johnson take a lead role

Sport | Published:

Roger Johnson may have been booed by Wolves and Birmingham fans if this fixture had been played a few months ago.

But as the 29-year-old centre-back prepares for his first league game against Blues since leaving them for Wolves for £4m in July 2011, his transformation from zero to hero in the eyes of the Molineux masses is almost complete.

After his poor form last season, Johnson has knuckled down from the first day of pre-season and been rewarded with the sort of all-action displays explaining why former Molineux chief Mick McCarthy made him the club's most expensive defender.

Wolves manager Stale Solbakken has played his own part in that transformation, making the structure of the team more compact to help close the gaps between the midfield and the defence.

But the Norwegian has revealed how the headstrong Johnson is more than happy to make managerial decisions on the pitch that some of his Blues contemporaries may recognise.

"It's easier for him now he won't get criticised by both parties!" said Solbakken.

"What I like about him is he's got a really good hunger to win.

"Sometimes the balance is on a thin line between that desperation to win and to protect himself.

"He also has a certain amount of temper, and when one or the other is bubbling over, you can do some stupid things.

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"And you can say some things you regret afterwards. But he's handled that much better.

"We had a discussion after the Brighton game when Karl Henry was sent off.

"He made a decision 25 minutes into the second half that he wanted more protection, so he dragged Bjorn Sigurdarson back and Kevin Foley in.

"Sometimes I like that because players feel it (leadership) out there.

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"And if a manager demands things from leading players, you shouldn't be critical when they do that.

"Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong, but I praised him for that.

"I don't think it was a completely right decision because we were left with too many at the back at times which meant we were a long way from the opposition goal.

"Brighton didn't create anything, but it made it more difficult for us to break forward because of it."

Solbakken had an on-pitch row with Johnson a few weeks ago at Watford but insists he has no problem with his players showing initiative.

"As long as we're open about it afterwards, I'm OK about that," said the boss.

"I like that in a way. It shows initiative and it shows he was desperate to keep them out, and felt uncomfortable.

"He wanted Bjorn to get back there, and that can be OK."

But Solbakken also believes he helping Johnson improve as a player.

"I think I can improve him in the way he plays because what he lacks, a little bit, is pace," he said.

"Sometimes he wants to get out of the back four to make a tackle, but he leaves a hole behind him and he can't get back.

"Then you're vulnerable, whereas if you're in the right position when the ball is played up to the striker, you can afford to wait a little bit and still get to the ball.

"But because he's so hungry to smash the guy, he goes too early, instead of being in the right positions and waiting.

"A clever player would see the danger.

"You also have the traditional English way of showing everyone you can put your head in instead of your foot – that can be good sometimes, and others not.

"But I think he can continue his progress and develop his positional play."

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