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SPORTS
29 Oct 2010
BIRMINGHAM

"I don't like losing at anything. Challenge me to chuck a coin closest to something and I'd be devastated if I lost. I'd keep going until I'd won."

Chatting to Birmingham City centre-back Roger Johnson at the club's training ground, I do not doubt him for a second because, while he speaks openly enough, he exudes a serious undertone.

It is a no-nonsense demeanour that befits a man who is making the most of a Premier League career that only arrived following a lengthy apprenticeship.

Johnson, who made his Wycombe debut in 2000 and stayed "probably two years too long" before leaving for Cardiff in 2006, says there was no way he was not going accept Birmingham's offer of top-flight football in June 2009.

"I'm not a bad egg," he insists. "I didn't throw my toys out of the pram and say 'I'm better than this and I need to be going'.

"I'm a big believer that if you keep doing what you are doing you will get your chance and, thankfully, it came along but I certainly didn't kick up a stink at either of the clubs. I just got disappointed within myself a little bit and just wanted the chance to come along."

Now 27, he wants to continue a rise which he hopes will lead to an England call.

"I'm not going to lie," he admits ahead of this Sunday's second city derby against Aston Villa. "I'm not going to sit here and say I don't want to get in the England squad, of course I do.

"It is the pinnacle of your career. To play for your country is the best accolade you can get. I'd love nothing more than to get a chance to get in that squad. I just have to keep playing as well as I can and see what the manager [Fabio Capello] does.

"But there are some good players in front of me so, maybe through injuries I might get a chance. I have to keep playing well for Birmingham and that's all I can do."

That form for Blues has helped raise his profile and Johnson is aware that continuing and improving on his club displays could result in the England manager being added to his growing list of admirers.

In his first season after being plucked from the Championship by Birmingham boss Alex McLeish, Johnson was at the heart of one the meanest defences in the Premier League last season as he helped the Midlands club to an impressive ninth-place finish.

In the process, Birmingham were the only team to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea in the league as they remained unbeaten at home against the top-flight champions, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool while their defeat by Everton this season was their first at home in a club record-equalling 18 matches.

During that run, Johnson faced the likes of Chelsea forward Didier Drogba, Liverpool striker Fernando Torres and Manchester United marksman Wayne Rooney.

And so, having faced many of the world's best, he is confident that he could adapt to a higher level still.

"Football's about chances," claims the former Chelsea season ticket holder. "Nobody knows if I would be able to do it because I've not been given the chance. I'm sure that I can with the players that you are going to have around you."

However, while he has confidence in his own ability, he quickly dismisses any notion that he might let any praise go to his head.

"It's not in my character to go away with the fairies," he says. "I just want to play every week. That's all I want to do and to play well every week is key for me.

"At 27, some people see that as young but this is the main part of my career.

"I want to be in the Premier League for the next six or seven seasons so I need to keep doing what I am doing and play well to stay in the Premier League."

Birmingham have had a mixed start to the season and, while some of the club's fans might be dreaming of challenging for a European spot after the exploits of the previous campaign, Johnson has more realistic ambitions.

"Some of the quotes I have heard from people, it is ridiculous," he counters. "We exceeded everyone's expectations last year with a great league position finish.

"If we finish 15th, 16th, 17th this season then we are still in the league and it will have been a good season. Talking about Europe and all that is just crazy talk.

"No-one is getting carried away. We know that this season is going to be harder than last season and we are not going to get carried away with finishing higher than last year."

The challenge of consolidating Birmingham's top-flight status is one Johnson will approach with the same determination and desire he takes into his role in the team.

"I love defending," he enthuses.

"Everyone thinks they are a striker and I've notched a couple of goals now and again but I love getting clean sheets.

"I love the whole package of being a defender. I love tackling, heading, blocking. I like the challenge and the battle. I'm fairly aggressive in my play and that's what defending is all about."

And fittingly for a player who has worked his way up from the youth team ranks at Wycombe, Johnson is refusing to get carried away by the almost inevitable transfer speculation that has accompanied his displays.

"When it comes to a move or an England call, they are things that I have got to look to do, otherwise it means that I am settling for what I have achieved," he says.

"If a big move comes in then I would have to think about it. There's no way I would be forcing the issue.

"The speculation is nice. You don't know how true paper quotes are sometimes but it's nice to see it.

"But I'll do the same as I did at every other club - if the gaffer pulls me into his office and says there has been an offer then that's when I will start talking about it. Until then it is all paper talk."

source:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news

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