FORMER Manchester City star Michael Johnson says it was mental health issues rather than injuries and booze that “turned the light off” on his career.
The now 32-year-old was hailed as “England’s next big star” after breaking into the first-team aged just 18 under Stuart Pearce.
He continued to blossom under Sven Goran-Eriksson with City rejecting a £12million bid from Liverpool for the midfielder’s services in 2008.
Johnson was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of City’s youth set-up, but a succession of injuries to his hamstring, knee and a double hernia brought a halt to his progress.
A battle against depression then followed as his contract was terminated in 2012 with the ex-England U21 international announcing his retirement at just 24.
Johnson asked to be “left alone to live the rest of my life” after calling it quits as he sought treatment at the Priory while he was also issued with a three-year drink driving ban.
Now in a revealing interview with The Athletic he has claimed it was his mental struggles that led to his wasted talent rather than anything physical or inside a bottle.
Johnson said: “My mindset was just really low. Really low. I had no confidence, no self-esteem.
“My way of dealing with it was to play and to be the best. And if I’m the best, I’m worth something.
“Eventually, when I started playing in the first team, when I’d sort of ‘made it’, when I was playing regularly, that motivation that I had… it just went overnight.
“I always thought I was going to feel better about myself by playing football and by being in the first team.
“When I didn’t get that, when I didn’t get that relief, it was, ‘Oh, actually I don’t feel better’.
“That light at the end of the tunnel just went.”
Johnson was troubled by injuries from an early age but he insists they were not an overriding factor in his career being cut-short.
And even though he admits he did go out too much on the town, he says it was not the enjoyable party lifestyle many believed.
Johnson says: “I was dealing with things the wrong way.
“I had too much free time. I went out too many times, going to nightclubs or whatever.
“It was always to try to feel better about myself. And it was unhelpful. I was going out and having a few drinks as a way of dealing with my emotions, to try to give myself a temporary high and feel good about myself for a short period.
“Maybe people perceived that as, ‘He doesn’t give a f***’, that sort of attitude. But it was the opposite.
“This is the thing with depression. When you’re stuck in that mindset, you find any way you can to try to make yourself feel better.”
Despite Eriksson taking him on loan to Leicester, Johnson says his motivation had gone and he returned back to City not wanting to go on playing as he began taking counselling.
While City were enjoying their first title triumph in 2012, twice within the space of three months Johnson was caught drink-driving, earning a lengthy ban and a £5,500 fine.
That summer he checked into the Priory for help.
Finally it emerged the following January Johnson had left City several weeks earlier after his contract was terminated by mutual consent.
And that led to him deciding to call it a day permanently so he could focus solely on his mental health battle.
Johnson would later open a bar, a venture that led to him meeting his wife Jen, with the couple now having a baby together.
After a stint as an estate agent, he revealed his main business interest these days is running a car dealership with his father.