Versatile Johnson gets McClaren backing

November 17, 2006

Manager Steve McClaren insists Everton's Andrew Johnson has a big part to play for England.

On only his second international start, Johnson was largely overshadowed by Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole in the three-man attack McClaren deployed in Wednesday's draw with Holland at the Amsterdam ArenA.

Both before and after the game, boss McClaren spoke glowingly about the attributes of Aaron Lennon, which led to the obvious conclusion that the Tottenham man, if fit, will replace Johnson in the England line-up to face Spain at Old Trafford on February 7.

Yet, even if Johnson finds himself back on the substitutes' bench, the 25-year-old has no need to worry for he has already shown McClaren enough to keep him on the England scene for a long while yet.

'I have watched Andy for a few years,' said McClaren.

'He has the kind of pace that frightens defenders and did a great job for the team against Holland.

'He is not just a stereotypical 'play it down the middle' man. He can adapt and play on either side.

'That bodes well for the future because the key to international football these days is about adapting to different positions rather than just one.'

Pilloried after last month's shambolic defeat in Croatia, while England did not quite manage to win in Holland, McClaren at least emerged from the most traumatic period of his short reign with his tarnished reputation at least partially restored and his enthusiasm for the job admirably unaffected.

'It is a great job,' he claimed.

'I said from the beginning it was a privilege and an honour and it really is.

'Yes, there is pressure and expectation but that is always the case in football.

'I was stood looking around the stadium before the game last night and I was thinking 'Where else would you rather be in the world?. It is a great stadium, England versus Holland, and you are head coach of the team'.'

McClaren did not appear quite so at ease with himself 24 hours before the Holland encounter when he finally came out swinging at his inquisitors, railing against what he believed to be clear attempts to divide him from his staff.

However, he claimed the reaction was merely an effort at bringing the subject of debate back from 'who said what?' to 'did we win or lose?'.

'I wasn't reacting to anything,' he said. 'It was a response to how I felt.

'I have never doubted myself and I wasn't feeling the pressure. Any pressure on me is internal and I don't like losing football matches like we did in Croatia.

'This job is about football. It is about results and performances. That is what I am interested in and that is the point I was trying to get over.'