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For much of the 2004/05 football season, Stern John felt as though his world was caving in.


Sold by Birmingham City, the club he helped into the England Premier League, only to be unappreciated by his new League Championship employers, Coventry City. Within five months, he worked with four different bosses at club and international level-a fifth, Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, was just appointed Trinidad and Tobago coach-while he dropped reluctantly from the Premiership to the League Championship and is danger of a further fall into League One.

His nadir came at the start of the month when national coach Bertille St Clair was sacked after a disappointed World Cup qualifying run, which coincided with John's goal drought, while he returned to Coventry to find new signing Shaun Goater entrenched in his place.

Worse still, John heard whispers that his starting spot with Trinidad and Tobago was under intense scrutiny.

Pride stung, he responded with his best goal this season and possibly his finest strike since his dazzling effort against West Ham in Birmingham's maiden Premiership campaign when turned Czech defender Tomas Repka and drilled past England international goalie David James.

John's solo effort on Saturday, in which he turned the Wolverhampton defence inside out before guiding home with the outside of his foot, earned Coventry a 2-2 draw that can be crucial to their efforts to stave off relegation.

Rather than celebrate with ecstatic fans and teammates, John strode to the corner flag with chest swollen. One suspects he felt he was vindicating his own talents as much as rescuing a proud club.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is believed to be a master of the "siege mentality". The world hates us, he supposedly tells his gifted squad, so let's throw it back in their faces.

John is a keen exponent of the art. He can be inspired when wounded.

"It is one of the best ways to answer my critics," he said, as he explained his goal "celebration". "Since I have been here, I have been up and down with the fans. Today they hate me, but tomorrow they love me.

"I was really emotional today when I scored because I believe I am one of the players who should be playing every week in this team."

Murmurs of dissatisfaction from his homeland cut him even deeper.

"I am a proven goal scorer so I don't have to prove anything for anybody," said John, last Saturday. "All strikers have goal droughts but it is up to fans and even the Federation to stick by me. Look at (Ruud) van Nistelrooy who is a world-class player and top goal-scorer for Manchester United. He came back and can't hit the back of the net, but Alex Ferguson is a good manager and still has the confidence in him because he knows he can win you games.

"Those are the kind of players you need to leave on the pitch. I mean you hearing all kinds of rumours about drop this one and drop that one and I think everybody getting too hasty.

"They just need to relax and let the new coach just do his job."

Van Nistelrooy scored twice in United's FA Cup win over Newcastle on Sunday-the day after John ended his own barren spell.

John needs only point to his impressive 56-goal international tally, which is the most ever by a Trinidad and Tobago player and the 11th highest on FIFA's record, to prove his own case. His record surpasses that of luminaries like Brazilians Romario (54) and Zico (52) as well as England's Sir Bobby Charlton (49).

There is a paradoxical element to John's argument, though. For on Saturday, he set out to dominate the opposing defence and terrorised his markers at every opportunity, which culminated in his dazzling strike. It was miles from his performances for much of the year when he lived off scraps in the opposing penalty area.

John recognises this too.

"At Coventry and for Trinidad, we don't create that much as a team so maybe I need to create more for myself," he said. "Normally I hold the ball up and play it wide and get into the box but the service is not coming. So I think I need to have something extra in my locker to pull a surprise and take on defenders and get a shot off.

"If I try to play post-up, sometimes I go through the whole game and don't get a shot. So I have to go back to the old Stern John."

The ability to spot your mistake, correct it and not own up for being at fault in the first place is typical in the world of professional sport.

Like Trinidad and Tobago's cricket phenomena Brian Lara answering critics, who claimed that he is not doing his talent justice, by buckling down for a big score without seeing the irony in his response.

As an athlete in the pressurised world of pro sport, self-doubt is suicide and motivation is gold dust.

At 16, John had to play as a defensive midfielder to break into the national under-17 team and, even then, had to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Three years later and as a striker, he was the linchpin of a more talented under-23 squad and broke into the senior squad alongside the likes of idol Dwight Yorke and Leonson Lewis.

For every setback, John emerged stronger and cockier. British writer Josephine Hart once said that damaged people are dangerous because they know they can survive.

John has done it before and is confident that he will rise again.

At just 28, it is likely that he will take his national scoring record, which he began building nine years ago, into the realms of absurdity.

It is difficult, almost ridiculous, to contemplate a national squad without John's predatory presence.

But, if you think he needs a kick up the backside, don't hesitate. He will be the better man for it.

Just don't mean it, of course