Premier League Aston Villa maybe made the wrong call when they let Daniel Johnson join Championship outfit Preston North End.
If there are any young footballers reading this, fretting about whether they have a future at their Premier League employers, the curious case of Daniel Johnson should be a source of inspiration.
After spending six of his teenage years perfecting those piercing passes at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground, the Midland giants came to the conclusion that a Jamaica-born play-maker simply wasn’t at the required level after a series of loan spells in the lower leagues.
But rather than let his head drop and drift off into obscurity, Johnson has set about proving everyone at Villa Park wrong.
These days, he is arguably the Championship’s most influential central midfielder – and a player who Aston Villa sold for just £50,000 would surely command a seven-figure transfer fee these days.
“DJ’s whole game is better this season. It just takes time to get to where you want to be. If you keep working hard and keep wanting to improve, you will get there,” Preston manager Alex Neil told the Lancashire Post of a player who is enjoying the best season of his career at Deepdale.
“DJ has been a key player for us, we do miss him when he’s not there. He can do a bit of everything, he’s got good legs so can get up and support.
“If you think back to the game on Saturday at Wigan, he made the first goal and scored the second.”
Johnson so often makes the difference between one point and three at Preston and his importance to this promotion-chasing side was only reinforced at the DW Stadium. The 27-year-old followed a defence splitting assist with a well-taken goal in the second half, the latest in a series of match-winning performances in that white shirt.
In total, Johnson has produced ten goals and six assists in 21 Championship matches, making this the most productive campaign of his life. It’s no coincidence that Preston won just twice in eight games when their dreadlocked dynamo spent the festive period stuck on the treatment table.
Back in 2017, then-Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce spoke to the Birmingham Mail, bemoaning the club’s decision to let two talented young midfielders slip through their fingers; Barry Bannan and Marc Albrighton.
Three years on, we can add Johnson to that list.