Adam Johnson will use the disappointment of missing out on a World Cup and a European Championship as motivation to perform for Sunderland this season.
The Easington-born winger was named in England’s provisional 2010 World Cup squad and was an unused stand-by for the 2012 European Championships. He is determined to avoid a hat-trick at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
“England is still burning inside me,” said Johnson, who is set to be backed up by Charis Mavrias with his on-off move from Panathinaikos expected to be rubber-stamped imminently. “It’s a massive season for me, just as it is for every player who has represented their country.
“To be on standby for the last two major tournaments and to miss out both times was really disappointing and tough to take, particularly with the way I was playing at the time. This is huge for me, there’s a massive carrot at the end of the season and if I can get some good performances and we get the team playing well then you’d like to think that the England people will take notice. That’s how it has to be.”
Johnson won the last of 11 England caps as a substitute against Norway in May 2012, three months before joining Sunderland from Manchester City. Only one of his three starts came in a competitive game, against Montenegro nearly three years ago. For a player of his talent, it is a poor return.
Johnson’s determination to put it right is good news for Sunderland. One of the few survivors of Paolo Di Canio’s summer revamp, the 26-year-old has come across as an enthusiastic supporter of the Italian’s hardline regime, and realises that only by embracing it can he make the plane to South America. “I’m driven to prove myself,” he argued. “I’ve had quite a big taste of that side of things. I know what it takes to be at the top, to win the league, to play for my country.
“I haven’t been with England for a while – for a year now – but that just drives me on more. Not to prove other people wrong so much, but to try and play well and get back into that set-up. There’s a massive reward at the end of it.
“I have to do it for Sunderland first. It sounds easy to do – play well, team play well, get in there – but it’s not. It’s difficult. I saw that last season, when I wasn’t playing well individually and the team was struggling, too, that makes it harder for you to find your form.
“This season we’re trying to get the ball higher up the field and that helps and my sharpness is definitely a lot better. I feel quicker and stronger in myself.”
It looked as though Sunderland had abandoned hope of signing 19-year-old winger Mavrias after reports in his homeland that a deal was imminent failed to amount to anything, but he was on Wearside for a medical yesterday afternoon ahead of a ï¿½2.5m move.
A twice-capped Greek international, left-footed Mavrias also holds the distinction of being the second youngest player to appear in the Champions League, appearing in the competition for Panathinaikos at the age of 16 years and eight months.
Mavrias will be Sunderland’s 12th signing of the summer, 11 of them permanent. The arrivals are expected to be at least partly off-set by further departures, with David Vaughan set to join Championship side Reading.