Former Derby & Birmingham star: “My faith gave me structure, discipline & guidance”

Cross The Line co-founder, Ollie Baines spoke with former Derby County & Birmingham City defender, Michael Johnson about his football career and Christian faith.

You started and ended your career at Notts County, how would you sum up your time there?

“It was a very very good time for me, coming up through the ranks at my home town club. I was very proud to represent them and also to end it there was very fitting. For those who has seen Michael Johnson start his career at Notts County got to see me end it there to, so I really enjoyed it.”

You went on to play for the likes of Birmingham and Derby County, two big clubs; were there any stand out moments for you?

“Yeah without doubt. I was fortunate enough that with both teams, I was able to get promotion. With Birmingham City in 2001, we beat Norwich and in 2002 we played in the Worthington Cup final against Liverpool, so they would be my stand out moments for Birmingham. At Derby, to captain the team that won promotion in 2007 and have the opportunity to walk up the stairs at Wembley like so many greats have done, for me was one of the most remarkable moments of my career.”

As a former Premier League defender, you must have come up against some quality opposition, who is the best striker you’ve faced?

“For me, the most difficult opponent was without doubt, Thierry Henry. Just for the fact that when I played against him, it was that invincible team era when they went the whole season undefeated. The kind of players they had, I’m talking, Pires, Ljungberg, Wiltord, Bergkamp, Cole and Henry. They had flair coming out of every part of their team. They beat us 4-0, it could have been 6 or 7, it was only afterwards that you realise you’ve just played against one of the greatest players for Arsenal and in the Premier League. He was class.”

If you could choose one player to be your centre half partner, who would it be and why?

“I have two in mind. Marseille Desailly and Fabio Cannavaro. I’m going for Cannavaro.

You look at his career and it was unbelievable, especially in the World Cup. Similar sort of stature to me, captained his country to the world cup, but not only that, he won the player of the tournament. Now when you consider that a defender wins the player of the tournament award in the world cup, it just speaks volumes about how well he played.”

Since retiring you’ve gone into coaching and you’re now at Cardiff City, how is it all going?

“Yeah it’s going great. It’s always nice to be giving back to sport that you’ve loved and hopefully helping the next generation coming through, so I’m thoroughly enjoyed my Under 21’s role at Cardiff.”

Do you want to manage one day?

“That’s definitely on the agenda one day, if I get the opportunity. So yes, absolutely.”

How did you come to faith?

“Well it was in the mid 2000’s. I didn’t have the strength alone to come out and declare I was a Christian and speak about my faith. I managed to room with a player called, Darren Moore and we had many conversations about faith. He was a born again Christian and over a period of time I felt like I was becoming more comfortable with the idea, so I decided that now is the time for me to conduct my life in a way that reflects Christ.”

How did your faith impact your life as a player?

“It impacted everything. My faith gave me structure, it gave me discipline, it gave me guidance and it improved me more as a man, a player, a father and a husband. So the teaching of Christ and the ways of how I should conduct myself we certainly lacking before taking on my faith.”

Is it difficult to be a Christian in the world of football?

“Absolutely, as a young man you get wrapped up in money, the fame, women, gambling, nightclubbing. It’s all there. You’re a young person and if you don’t have the correct figures around you, then you can get lulled into that. It was imperative for me that whilst I could step into faith and make that change, I did.”

Favourite Bible verse?

“I always leave my Bible open on Psalm 32 – the Lord is my Sheprhard. I love reading Psalms, there are so many scriptures that really encourage me. It’s verses like that, that keep me grounded, keep me encouraged. When you’re having a bad day, the Bible is always there and it’s the word of God and it’s just uplifting.”

Do you think footballers who believe in God should be more vocal about their faith?

“I wouldn’t say they need to be more vocal. I think it’s about being a light in the way your portray yourself, in the changing rooms, on the pitch and encourage those who are struggling. But don’t be afraid to talk up about your love for Christ, obviously there will be times when it may not be appropriate I really believe the Lord will bless you.”

Best player you’ve ever played with?

“I’m going to say French world cup winner, Christophe Dugarry. A player in the same era as Henry, Petit, Vieira etc. At Birmingham, his talent was frightening, he was a very very gifted player.”

What do you make of Michael’s comments about his faith?

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