Preston fans won’t be forgetting how much Daniel Johnson cost any time soon. Johnson has been met with the same chant for more than five years now; ’50 grand, 50 grand, Daniel Johnson…’
Yes, Preston managed to land Johnson for just £50,000. His 2015 move will forever go down as one of the finest bargains in North End’s history, and one of Aston Villa’s more bizarre choices.
Villa had landed Johnson from Crystal Palace in 2009. The Kingston-born midfielder was clearly well-thought-of at Villa Park. He named academy captain in 2010, he helped Villa win the Barclays Premier Academy League Group B title and played a key role in Villa’s run to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in that 2010-11 season.
It looked like Johnson was on course for stardom at Villa. Gerard Houllier called him up for first-team action, and he then signed his first professional deal with the club. Yet when Johnson signed another new deal in 2013, he did so without a first-team appearance to his name.
Loans with Oldham Athletic and Chesterfield showcased his ability as a League One player in 2014, and that’s when Preston first became impressed with his ability. Johnson ran Preston ragged for Chesterfield in a 3-3 draw at Deepdale, and he became a North End player just months later.
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Preston swooped to sign Johnson inside the final six months of his contract. Remarkably, Villa sold him for just £50,000. Villa narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League that season, whilst Johnson hit eight goals and three assists in his first 23 games for Preston, capping off the season with promotion at Wembley.
A creative, goalscoring midfielder for just £50,000 was exactly what North End needed. Johnson has been vital ever since his bargain arrival. His record for Preston now stands at 42 goals and 24 assists in 212 appearances; a goal contribution every 3.2 games.
Just 18 months after Johnson was sold, Villa were relegated to the Championship. They have faced Johnson four times, beating him just once whilst seeing him pick up a goal and two assists against them.
Some may point to the fact that Johnson has never broken into the Premier League, and at 27, he may not manage to any time soon. Yet Villa’s scattergun approach saw them sell Johnston for just £50,000, then agree to pay Henri Lansbury £40,000-a-week in wages.
Things could have been very different had they given Johnson a chance, and he certainly could have contributed plenty in the Championship for them. When you look at some of the costly decisions Villa made in that era, selling Johnson seems like a missed opportunity; offloading a talented young player to go for experience who offered little in terms of quality or resale value.
Preston will be delighted they chose to sell for such a bargain price. He would cost much, much more than that right now, and just like Callum Robinson, he has made a mockery of Aston Villa’s decision to flog him on the cheap.