Adam Johnson always looked more comfortable on the wing but the disgraced footballer is unlikely to find conditions quite as welcoming in jail. The 28-year-old was on Friday sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty earlier this month of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl.
In his prime Johnson bamboozled opponents but a jury did not fall for his defence and found him guilty by a 10-2 majority. He joins a list of British footballers who have spent time behind bars including former England captain Tony Adams, ex-Rangers and Everton striker Duncan Ferguson and current Burnley midfielder Joey Barton.
IBTimes UK charts the rise and fall of the former Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Sunderland player.
After graduating from Middlesbrough's youth academy, fresh-faced and sinewy Johnson made his senior debut aged 17 playing for Boro in March 2005. He played 11 minutes in the 1-0 Uefa Cup loss to Sporting CP before making his Premier League debut against Arsenal six months later.
After a rather dour time on loan to Leeds United, Johnson moved to Watford where five goals in 12 appearances caught the eye of his parent club Boro and he was recalled. Upon his arrival back to Tyneside and in the final match of the 2007/08 season, Johnson scored a blistering effort against future club Manchester City.
First team regular
As a left-footed winger, Johnson found himself behind Stewart Downing in the Boro pecking order but still managed 32 appearances in the 2008/09 season. Upon Middlesbrough's relegation from the Premier League to the Championship, Downing departed for Aston Villa, leaving a space on the left-hand side for Johnson.
Johnson hit form in 2009/10 under new Boro manager Gordon Strachan. "He's a good kid and he understands it. He would like to try to get us back to the top level," the Scot said of his player. Johnson hit eight goals in the first half of the season, earning him the attention of Premier League clubs.
The lure of playing under the bright lights proved too much for Johnson and after a decent campaign he chose not to renew his contract at the Riverside Stadium and was snapped up by money bags Manchester City for £7m ($9.8m) in the 2010 January transfer window.
Upon signing for City, manager Roberto Mancini highlighted his new addition as a burgeoning British talent. "Adam is a very good player with fantastic potential, and as a club we are always keen to sign British talent," Mancini said. Ironically, his first goal for the club was against future employers Sunderland.
It was while Johnson was playing for City that he suffered personal tragedy when best friend Dale Roberts hanged himself at his Northamptonshire home.
Johnson had already represented England at U-19 and U-21 level and finally broke into the senior squad in 2010 when manager Fabio Capello named him in his provisional World Cup squad. He ultimately failed to make the cut but made his international debut in a 3-1 win over Mexico at Wembley in May. He went on to earn 12 caps for the Three Lions, scoring twice.
Johnson got his hands on a trophy in the form of the FA Cup in 2011, making a substitute appearance in a 1-0 victory over Stoke City. The following season, City won a dramatic Premier League title from under the noses of arch rivals Manchester United on the final day of the campaign. He made 38 appearances in all competitions that season, scoring seven times.
Boyhood club transfer
Out of favour at City, Johnson signed for home-town club Sunderland in August 2012 for £10m. "Adding quality players to the squad has been our main aim this summer and Adam certainly fits that bill," Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill said at the time. He scored his first goal for the club against Everton in November, got the winner against City in December and scored in a memorable 3-0 win over neighbours Newcastle.
It was in December 2014 that he started messaging the girl who would later accuse him of grooming and sex offences.
He scored against City again in a 2-2 draw with his former side on New Year's Day 2015 but three months later everything changed for Johnson.
Arrest and final game
Johnson was arrested at his County Durham home on 2 March 2015. Sunderland reacted by suspending the playmaker but he was controversially recalled while on bail after allegedly telling the club 10 months earlier he had kissed an underage girl.
Johnson's final match for Sunderland was on 6 February 2016, days before his trial started. He scored in a 2–2 draw with Liverpool but had his contract with the club terminated five days later after pleading guilty to sexual activity with a child under the age of 16 and grooming. Sponsors including Adidas and Fifa severed their ties with the footballer as a result.
On 10 February, apparently to the surprise of his employers, Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming. He denied two further counts of underage sexual activity but on 2 March Johnson was found guilty of one of the charges by a majority verdict of 10–2.