This picture shows two players who were considered very promising at the time battling for the ball in a Premier League game at the start of the 2007/08 season.
One of them, Cesc Fabregas, is now at Barcelona, where, even at that stage, it seemed inevitable he would return to one day, whilst the other is now without a club and, to all intents and purposes, unless somebody is willing to take a gigantic gamble on him, out of a career.
Even if you haven’t clicked on the picture, you have probably guessed from the headline that the other player being referred to was Michael Johnson, who, back then, had just broken into the Manchester City first-team and had announced himself on the senior stage with an impressive strike against Derby County a week prior.
Everything seemed to be in place at that point for Johnson to enjoy a long and prosperous career for club and country, with the midfielder also gaining international recognition for England at U21 level. Slowly, but surely, however, things took a turn for the worse as Johnson suffered a serious injury before being consumed by personal problems and offences which led to him not playing senior football for over three years before finally being released by City this week.
What has this got to do with Arsenal? Well, lessons can certainly be learned from Johnson’s sorry plight. It is true that this situation may be a somewhat isolated case, but there are many footballers who commence their senior careers at big clubs who drift away from the game altogether within a matter of years.
There are, of course, some who are destined to make it to the top, with Jack Wilshere the prime example, but for others ability is not the only requirement for a distinguished career at the top level. Players such as Jermaine Pennant and David Bentley have struggled to carve out as successful careers as they may have done, owing largely to attitude problems, whilst others fail for different reasons. Defender Paul Rodgers, for instance, made a solitary senior appearance for Arsenal against Burnley in 2008, but has been without a club since last summer after being released by Welsh side Newport County.
Arsene Wenger, perhaps owing to the pressing need for a trophy after such a long barren run, has been reluctant to deploy youngsters as frequently in cup competitions so far this season as in the past, but the likes of Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Jernade Meade have all featured intermittently and given a good account of themselves. Those three also, from a distance at least, appear to possess the required mentality and determination to succeed at the highest level, even if not all of them will be first-team players in the future.
What Johnson’s case shows, however, is that, even once you have broken into the senior squad, that is by no means a guarantor of future success. He made 36 league appearances for City, but now, at an age where he should ordinarily be reaching his peak, he is instead on the scrapheap.
This lesson does not apply specifically to Arsenal, but to all young players seeking to make a breakthrough in the game, and, even if it does prove to be something of a one-off, coaches everywhere would be well advised to use this unfortunate situation as a warning to those seeking to make a breakthrough.