Ex-Birmingham players' damaged reputations
22 February ~ In the January transfer window Roger Johnson and Scott Dann returned to the Premier League after a year-and-a-half's hiatus, signing for West Ham United and Crystal Palace respectively. The centre-backs were paired together at Birmingham City between 2009 and 2011, providing the foundation for a 12-match unbeaten run in the 2009-10 season. It was a continuation of the almost constant upward curve their careers had taken since starting out at Wycombe Wanderers (Johnson) and Walsall (Dann).
Although Blues faltered from January onwards they still finished ninth, while Johnson and Dann were regarded as impressive signings and potential England internationals. This was as good as it got for all concerned and the duo are now trying to rebuild damaged reputations.
A doughty, old-fashioned centre-back, Johnson was particularly suited to an attritional style of play: under Alex McLeish the team sat deep and defended staunchly, hoping to nick a goal at the other end. Like a budget John Terry, Johnson threw himself in the way of everything and often carried on through the pain, becoming an ever-present and fans' favourite in the process. He made the most clearances in the division in his first season, although how many were misplaced forward passes hasn't been determined.
He then began to develop delusions of grandeur. Johnson talked of moving to a top-six side in order to enhance his international ambitions and, in an interview shortly after leaving, claimed he and Dann had proven themselves in the Premier League – conveniently overlooking the fact that relegation implied otherwise. Wolves and Blackburn weren't the destinations either had in mind.
There was more than a twinge of satisfaction at seeing things unravel for Johnson thereafter. Never the quickest or most composed of players he seemed increasingly leaden-footed and prone to rash challenges. He was stripped of the captaincy having turned up to training drunk, fought with team-mates and soured his relationship with supporters. As Wolves' descent to League One was confirmed Johnson threw his shirt into the crowd only to find no one wanted it.
The same happened following his debut for West Ham. Being given the runaround by a rampant Yaya Touré wasn't the impression a ring-rusty Johnson intended to make. His loan move was an unusual example of a player being lent to a team two divisions higher; an emergency measure following injuries to James Collins, Winston Reid and James Tomkins. With two of those now available again Johnson is likely to be little more than back up as he looks to avoid a fourth successive relegation.
His fate is something of a case study in hubris. Johnson, always the more impetuous and outspoken of the two, was widely booed on his return to St Andrew's. In contrast Scott Dann received an appreciative ripple of applause. Similarly committed but comfortable on the ball he remains the more rounded player. Both have had their limitations exposed since leaving the other's side and once again find themselves in familiar territory, battling the drop under managers who prioritise the solid over the spectacular. Sean Cole