Adam Johnson feels fitter than he has been for a long time and believes he can enjoy a successful season with Sunderland before fulfilling his ambition of playing for England at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.

The 26-year-old former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger has 12 England caps but seemed to lose his way last season when, often looking out of condition, he struggled to make an impact following a £10m move from City.

"This is probably as good as I've felt for a while now and I'm excited for this season," Johnson said. "Hopefully I'll get even fitter and stronger. The first game – [a 1-0 home defeat to Fulham] – was a bit of a shock for everybody but I'm sure the team will get better and me personally as well. I'm feeling good.

"England is still burning inside me. It's a massive season for me, just as it is for every player who has represented their country. I've said this before, but to be on standby for the last two major tournaments and to miss out both times was really disappointing and tough to take, particularly with the way I was playing at the time.

"This is huge for me, there's a massive carrot at the end of the season and if I can get some good performances and we get the team playing well then you'd like to think that the England people will take notice. That's how it has to be. I have to do it for Sunderland first. It sounds easy to do, play well, team play well, get in there, but it's not. It's difficult. I saw that last season, when I wasn't playing well individually and the team was struggling, too, that makes it harder for you to find your form."

He trusts the fundamental change in philosophy and tactics implemented since Paolo Di Canio succeeded Martin O'Neill in the spring will help. "This season we're trying to get the ball higher up the field and that helps," Johnson said. "And my sharpness is definitely a lot better. I feel quicker and stronger in myself.

"I'm driven to prove myself. I've had quite a big taste of that side of things. I know what it takes to be at the top, to win the league, to play for my country. I haven't been with England for a while, for a year now, but that just drives me on more. Not to prove other people wrong so much but to try to play well and get back into that set-up. There's a massive reward at the end of it."