‘Never heard of him’
A popular response from Boro fans on hearing the news that Oxford United had accepted a bid that is believed to be in the region of £2.5 million for the League One winger.
The 26-year-old has been on Teesside for a medical and is expected to complete the move before Thursday’s 11pm deadline.
When the deal is confirmed, Johnson will become Boro’s tenth senior-signing of the summer, adding much-needed width – and hopefully creativity – something that Middlesbrough fans have been crying out for following a fairly average start to the season for Garry Monk’s men.
But what can Boro fans actually expect from Johnson? We asked Oxford United fan Dan Church and here’s what he had to say!
The view from Oxford United
What can Boro fans expect?
Boro can expect an exciting addition to their already strong squad. One that is very versatile, being comfortable in any position on the left-flank – from left-back, to left-wing, plus operating as a forward. Johnson has a terrific left foot, a superb delivery and an eye for goal. He is an attack-minded player, with his primary position being a winger, since his Motherwell days.
The only downside to Johnson’s play is perhaps his inconsistency he doesn’t perform to the best of his ability regularly, only showing glimpses. This will be something Monk will surely look to iron out, seeing Boro capture a very good player worthy of Championship status.
Hit or miss?
Johnson certainly proved a hit for Oxford. Reportedly a club-record signing only this time last year, for around £650,000, there was high expectation placed upon the winger, with Oxford also embarking on their first season back in the third-tier of English football following their promotion from League Two.
Having lost Kemar Roofe to Leeds United, in a deal worth around £3m too, Oxford lost a firm fans’ favourite, a hero, as well as a lot of goals and assists. Having spent heavily on the Motherwell hitman, Michael Appleton & Co. were looking for something special from Johnson each week.
Six goals and 11 assists during his debut season with Oxford doesn’t portray, nor justify, his true impact at the Kassam, as he was played at left-back, on the left side of midfield, in central midfield, on the left and right wing, as well as a centre forward. Again, his versatility is one of his finest attributes. Johnson played a huge part in helping Oxford reach the final of the 2016 Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley Stadium, netting in three successive ties, despite eventually losing the final.
Overall, spending £650,000 on him last summer was worthwhile, considering we have agreed a £3m fee for him, which includes add-ons. He was one of United’s most creative sparks last term, no matter what position he was deputised in, and was our flair player if you like. He likes a trick or too sometimes to please the crowd! Johnson finished as Oxford’s fourth top goalscorer in all competitions during the 2016/17 campaign, only behind forwards Chris Maguire, Kane Hemmings and Conor McAleny.
Whether Monk has plans to utilise Johnson at left-back, or in a more offensive role on the left flank, is still unknown, but either way, Middlesbrough are bringing in a quality player, not just someone who boosts the number of players in the first-team squad. Oxford fans are sad to see Johnson leave the Kassam, though the potential £3m sale is seen as a good deal, considering he’s been at Oxford for just 12 months.
Can he step-up to Championship level?
Johnson undoubtedly has the ability to compete in the Championship, so don’t expect him to be arriving at the Riverside just as ‘cover’. He was linked with moves away from Oxford back in January, just months after arriving, showing just how well he has taken to professional football in England, having previously played in non-league for Kidderminster Harriers.
From the New Year and onwards, scouts were always reportedly keeping a close tab on Johnson, even the likes of Manchester City were understood to be monitoring the winger. This summer, the likes of Leicester City (especially given our former manager Michael Appleton is Craig Shakespeare’s new assistant at the King Power), Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Hull City were all linked with his services, demonstrating his potential, despite turning 27-years-old this December.
It is understandable that Johnson wishes to test himself at a higher level, and he deserves that chance. He may not be the ‘big-name’ signing Boro fans were dreaming of, but don’t write him off, he has the ability to prove a shrewd signing. With an initial £2.5 million set to be paid, plus £500,000 in add-ons, a potential £3m sale is a good deal for Johnson, with two years remaining on his contract (the final year being an optional addition). Oxford sold Kemar Roofe for £3m last summer, reportedly, another club-record fee, so Johnson’s could match that depending on future appearances for Boro.
However, Scottish outfit Motherwell have a sell-on clause, thought to be 10 per cent, but some reports on Wednesday claimed they were set to land £750,000 from this deal, hinting at a 25 per cent sell-on clause instead. Nevertheless, Motherwell will get their fair share, and the rest of the figure for Oxford will seem worthwhile too, despite giving Pep Clotet very little time, if any, to replaced one of United’s star players before the close of the transfer window on Thursday night.
Chairman Darryl Eales has always reiterated the stance that Johnson was “not for sale”, though an “unbelievable” offer could see Oxford part with the winger. Three million proved to be the value of that “unbelievable” offer, and considering Johnson significantly scored less goals and provided less assists than Roofe the season before, as well as being slightly older, it is a good piece of business for Oxford in that respect, especially with Johnson evidently wanting a new challenge in a higher division ever since Hull submitted a £1 million bid earlier this summer.
What do you make of the news Boro fans? Drop a comment in the box below!