Roger Johnson has a “good hunger” and has many more years to play at the top level – that’s the view of Wolves boss Ståle Solbakken has the defender tackles his former club Birmingham tonight (5.20pm).
Johnson has enjoyed an impressive season with Wolves so far, returning to the standards reached during two years with Birmingham in which the Blues lifted the Carling Cup thanks to victory over Arsenal.
He has won over Wolves fans in the process after a difficult first campaign at Molineux, as well as impressing a manager who gave him a clean slate on checking in this summer.
And while Johnson is no longer captain of Wolves, the boss is keen for him to use his leadership skills and show responsibility as he did in one of the recent home games with Brighton.
“What I like about him is he’s got a really good hunger to win,” says the boss.
“Sometimes the balance is on a thin line between that desperation to win and to protect himself.
“He also has a certain amount of temper, and when one or the other is bubbling over, you can do some stupid things.
“And you can say some things you regret afterwards. But he’s handled that much better.
“We had a discussion after the Brighton game when Karl was sent off.
“He made a decision 25 minutes into the second half that he wanted more protection, so he dragged Bjorn Sigurdarson – who was playing wide right - back and Kevin Foley in.
“Sometimes I like that because players feel it out there.
“And if you demand things from leading players, you shouldn’t be critical when they do that - because that was how he felt.
“Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong, but I praised him for that.
“I don’t think it was a completely right decision all the time because we were left with too many at the back at times which meant we were a long way from the opposition goal.
“They didn’t create anything, but it made it more difficult for us to break forward because of it.
“But as long as we’re open about it afterwards, I’m o-k about that.
“I like that in a way. It shows initiative and it shows he was desperate to keep them out, and felt uncomfortable.
“He wanted Bjorn to get back there, and that can be o-k.”
Johnson is clearly a defender who thrives on being right in the thick of the battle and getting his challenges in, and the boss believes he can continue to improve heading into his 30s by making the right decisions.
“You also have the traditional English way of showing everyone you can put your head in instead of your foot - that can be good sometimes, and others not,” added the boss.
“Sometimes he wants to get out of the back four to kill someone with a tackle.
“I hadn’t seen much of him when he was at Birmingham, but I think he can continue his progress and develop his positional play.
“I’ve told him: ‘Every time you’re around the corner flag, you’re in the wrong place’ because when the cross comes in, I want you on the end of it, but if you’re six metres from the corner flag, you won’t reach it, no matter how good you are.
“A centre half at 29? He can probably play for four or five more years at the highest level.”