WHEN Glen Johnson left Chelsea in the summer of 2007 it was a case of potential unfulfilled. He returns to Stamford Bridge to face his old club tomorrow as a top class Liverpool full-back operating at the peak of his powers.
It seems hard to believe now that the first purchase of the Roman Abramovich era, a £6million buy from West Ham four years earlier, was allowed to join Portsmouth for £4million after spending a season on loan on the south coast.
Having been signed by Claudio Ranieri, Johnson was consistently overlooked by his successor Jose Mourinho.
He won the Premier League title and the League Cup during his spell with the Londoners but he was on the fringes under Mourinho, who preferred to put his faith in Paulo Ferreira and even Geremi.
“It was obvious Mourinho didn’t believe in me,” said Johnson.
“It gives me a lift when I wonder what Mourinho thinks about what’s happened to me since I left Chelsea.
“He probably thought I would go to Portsmouth, fade away, disappear and not do anything in the game – and probably 70% of football fans thought the same.”
Instead the experience made Johnson stronger and Chelsea’s loss has ultimately been Liverpool’s gain.
When Portsmouth decided to cash in back in 2009, Johnson could have gone back to Stamford Bridge as Carlo Ancelotti wanted his services but he opted for Anfield.
The journey from Reds new boy to fans’ favourite over the past three years hasn’t been plain sailing.
At the start the £17.5million fee was a burden. During a summer when money was in short supply, questions were asked about why Rafa Benitez was spending the bulk of his kitty on a new right-back.
There appeared to be more pressing issues to address but Johnson was brought in and Alvaro Arbeloa sold to Real Madrid.
Liverpool had just produced their best title challenge for two decades and Johnson believed he had joined a club on the brink of glory.
Instead the wheels came off spectacularly as internal infighting during the divisive reign of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett descended into all-out civil war.
A turbulent first campaign with the Reds, when Johnson’s attacking contribution was overshadowed by some defensive lapses, ended with Benitez’s departure.
The 2010/11 season began no better for Johnson. Liverpool were slumped at the wrong end of the Premier League and he was struggling for form.
The most damning assessment came from his own manager as Roy Hodgson claimed he had performed nowhere near the level expected of an England international.
Hodgson had curbed Johnson’s attacking mentality – he was rarely allowed to cross the halfway line. Belief appeared to have been drained from him after being placed in such a tactical straight jacket.
But the sacking of Hodgson and the appointment of Kenny Dalglish released him from that.
Johnson was given a licence to thrill and was instrumental in Liverpool’s subsequent climb up the table.
He penned a new extended contract and last season his progress continued unabated. How the Reds would dearly love a repeat of his stunning late winner at Stamford Bridge last November when he cut in off the right flank, burst past Ashley Cole and planted a shot past Petr Cech.
Since Brendan Rodgers took over this summer Johnson’s game has moved up another level.
He’s ideally suited to the Northern Irishman’s style of having his full-backs pushing on and playing virtually as wingers.
His versatility is also hugely impressive considering that England’s right-back has spent most of this season on the opposite flank.
Johnson has been a creative force down the left and his link up play with teenager Raheem Sterling has been a useful weapon. Defensively, he has also matured with his positional play and reading of the game having improved greatly.
Since picking up a minor hamstring injury at home to Anzhi Makhachkala last month he has been sorely missed.
Now back fit, his return to the side at Stamford Bridge is a major boost to the Reds’ hopes of extending their five-game unbeaten league run.
No-one mentions Johnson’s price tag now because his value to Liverpool is so great.
At 28 his best years remain ahead of him. Let’s hope once again he shows Chelsea what they’re missing.