What should we make of Adam Johnson? An enigmatic figure in recent years, Johnson has strayed in and out of form, a failing that originally cost the winger his name in the England squad. However, the turn of the year has seen an upturn in the form of Johnson. With 6 goals and 2 assists in his last 5 Premier League games AJ has surely timed a late surge towards Brazil to perfection. It is likely no coincidence that the foundation of this form, a hat-trick at Fulham, came just days after it was confirmed that Theo Walcott would miss the World Cup with a serious knee injury.
Thinking back to Adam Johnson's decision to transfer to Sunderland in August 2012, it originally appeared a shrewd move, where he surely hoped to stand out in a struggling side and maintain a long-term England career. For to long, reality has proved otherwise. The decision itself was admirable and will hopefully be followed by other young British players in the future, yet Johnson struggled for form in his first season with Sunderland, often picking up the ball in deeper positions than he had experienced playing for the imperious Manchester City, and consequently struggling to impact games. His 2012/13 record of 35 appearances, 5 goals and 6 assists however, does not read too badly for a Premier League winger, but they were stats that were not enough to impress Mr Hodgson.
His 2013/14 season started in similar vein. Influenced by the challenging management of Paolo Di Canio, Johnson arguably became worse, and looked totally devoid of confidence, although the same could be said for most players under Di Canio's Sunderland. The turning point has come more recently as Gus Poyet appears to have breathed new life in Johnson. Setting the team up around him and giving him the freedom to attack players and get into goal scoring positions, he has looked like the threatening Adam Johnson of old, epitomised in his performance in the Tyne-Wear derby where he scored and hit the post in a thrilling display of wing-wizardry.
But is he the answer to England's prayers I hear you ask? Recently, the wide right midfield berth has been varied depending on the style of player occupying it. In a 4-4-2 formation Hodgson seems to have preferred to play James Milner on the right of midfield to add a sense of reliability and security to the midfield, whilst Walcott/Townsend have both played in a more attacking 4-3-3 system. With Walcott injured for the World Cup, Townsend having recently suffered a hamstring injury and James Milner lacking playing time at Man City, you would have to argue that on current form Johnson is the best midfielder in that position. Although, there is no guarantee that Johnson will maintain his current form, he is surely doing his credentials no harm and should he continue scoring goals on a frequent basis he would be impossible to leave out. Hodgson would likely prefer the ever-reliable Milner against Italy and Uruguay in our crucial group games, but it is hard to deny that should we be desperate for an opening v Costa Rica, then Johnson would represent an exciting alternative to unlock the door.
Ultimately, questions will remain over Adam's England credentials, but he has certainly given Roy Hodgson a dilemma. The question of ability is not one that needs answering for me, as the lad has it in abundance, but temperament and confidence will most likely determine whether Johnson gets a place on the plane to Rio. The last piece of the puzzle for Adam may need to be drawn from within, that being the arrogance and belief that is required to be a top, top player. But under Gus Poyet you have to feel he has no better man to guide him.
You can't beat a good old selection dilemma!