Doctored Johnson would be wrong medicine for Palace

Nostalgia’s not what it used to be, especially where much-loved former players are concerned. ROB SUTHERLAND, of Five-Year Plan fanzine, explains why a return to Selhurst of Andy Johnson wouldn’t be a great idea

Andrew Johnson: Rob Sutherland says Palace ought not to be considering signing any former England strikers. Though Emile Heskey is available…

Palace fans aren’t the kind to expect much. Toiling is part of the club’s make-up and accepting failure is a rite of passage. When a player arrives having struggled to find the net, with low expectations and little excitement, Palace fans are at ease knowing that, if it doesn’t work out, at least they tried.

When Andrew Johnson arrived at the club, few thought much of him. A player who had frustrated at Birmingham City, famed for his tearful League Cup final penalty miss against Liverpool, Johnson was exactly the kind of player the support could get used to.

To think that Johnson would become a Crystal Palace success story is remarkable. Forgetting that the player had a reputation of being a goal-shy grafter, and despite the heavy burden of filling Clinton Morrison’s boots, Palace fans took to the Bedford-born youngster immediately. His rise in popularity was assisted, of course, by that hat-trick against Brighton and Hove Albion, but even then, few could have expected him to become such a star for the club.

The fact is that Jonson went from being a striker who scored a goal every 10 appearances for Birmingham City to averaging a goal every two appearances for Palace. He went from being a grafter who couldn’t score to being a grafter who knew exactly where the net was. Without his move to Palace, the chances of Johnson becoming a sought-after striker for Premier League clubs and an England international with eight caps to his name were minimal. It was the perfect match: just as Palace needed Johnson, so the player needed Palace.

It is, with this in mind, that Palace fans are screaming for the return of the prodigal striker after he has been let go by Fulham. After a number of seasons without a regular goalscorer, Palace fans are itching for a player who can fill that role.

The problem for Palace is that, despite an injury-plagued number of years since his move away from Selhurst Park, he is still a remarkable talent. The goals don’t come as frequently for AJ but he’s still a player with an impressive understanding of attacking play and an ability to link up with a variety of players. He has also added to his game; providing support and assists to fellow attackers.

The snag, though, is money. Established Premier League players come with big price-tags. Despite there being no transfer fee, the contract Johnson could demand would be far beyond what Palace’s owners could or even should budget for. In the past, where the club frequently spent in excess of £1 million on players, the justification might have been that by there not being a transfer fee we could spend an equivalent on wages.

Johnson’s contract with Palace in his last season was valued at around £25,000-per-week. The contract he was on at Fulham is likely to have been far in excess of that. Even at £25,000-per-week, Palace were spending £1.3 million per year on his wages. Double that and you get an idea of what Palace would be looking at per year if they were to re-sign an injury-prone striker towards the end of his playing days.

Lumbered: David Hopkin

Besides, Johnson has hinted at the potential of a move to the United Arab Emirates. With the big-money contracts promised, that would probably be too attractive a proposition.

And there is also that fear that comes with a returning player. They are never quite as good as they were in their original spell. Few will forget the lumbering performances of David Hopkin after his time away from the club. Likewise, despite a successful end to his second spell with the club, Clinton Morrison wasn’t quite the same player that left us when AJ arrived.

There are exceptions: the Dougie Freedmans who play like they’d never left; the Shaun Derrys who surprise by being better than they were when they were originally with the club.

Now, Freedman really should be looking to bring in some younger talent, the likes of Sam Baldock perhaps or Nick Powell from Crewe. But we need to do what we did with Johnson first-time round – take a gamble on an unknown rather than chuck money at an ageing star.

AJ is a player whose performances will never be forgotten. His history with the club should not be tainted by the wishful thought that a return to the club would be advantageous to the club and the player, when in reality its unlikely to be for either. We should instead bask in the knowledge that we truly saw the best of Andrew Johnson.

  • This is an edited version of an article which first appeared at Five-Year Plan‘s online site, which you can visit by clicking here.
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