STEFAN JOHANSEN accepts that Celtic will be a very different team without Scott Brown at the beating heart of their operations tomorrow.
But the Norwegian midfielder has pledged that the Scottish champions will not be as badly affected by the absence of their captain as they were at the start of this season.
With Brown missing through injury, Celtic won only four of their first TEN games of the campaign – two of those wins coming against Icelandic minnows KR Reykjavik in what proved to be a calamitous Champions League qualifying bid.
Since the dynamic midfielder’s return to action in mid-September, Celtic have lost only one of the 14 games he has played, a run which has helped them finally climb to the top of the Scottish Premiership table.
But they will have to do without Brown once more when they face Dundee at Celtic Park tomorrow as he serves a one-match suspension for his dismissal against Aberdeen at Pittodrie two weeks’ ago.
It will necessitate a change in role for Johansen who is poised to drop back into a more defensive midfield role, the 23-year-old having flourished in recent weeks further up the pitch where he has contributed three goals in his last six matches.
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Johansen, however, plays in the holding position for his country and helped them to a 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Azerbaijan in Baku on Saturday.
“I wish we had Scott available for the game,” said Johansen. “But he isn’t, so if the gaffer wants me to play in that position, I’m happy to play there. It’s no problem for me but we’ll see.
“Scott will be a loss to the team, he’s the captain and we saw at the start of the season when he was missing how important he is.
“There’s a different energy in the team when he’s there. He’s such a good player but football is a team sport and sometimes players are suspended or injured and you need to deal with it professionally. That’s what we’re going to do on Saturday, go out there and get the three points.
“I play as a holding midfielder for the national team, which is different to the role I have had with Celtic lately.
“That’s where my Norwegian gaffer (Per-Mathias Hogmo) wants me, so I do my job and the task he asks of me. I have a good relationship in the midfield with the guy I play beside (Alexander Tettey) so we have done well with Norway lately. It works well for the team so it’s no problem for me.
“It’s difficult to say which role I prefer. I have been scoring goals for Celtic and making assists, so I enjoy that.
“That’s not my job in the national team for Norway but I just need to fit in where he wants me to play. I am professional, so that’s my job.”
Celtic’s dramatic 2-1 win at Pittodrie before the international break, secured with a last-minute Virgil van Dijk goal after Brown was sent off, prompted a rare show of public emotion by manager Ronny Deila.
His post-match celebrations were the first real evidence of the outgoing side to his character which most famously came to light in 2009 when he kept a pledge to Stromsgodset fans to strip down to his underpants if they defeated Viking Stavanger to avoid relegation.
Johansen, who was signed by his compatriot Deila for Stromsgodset the following year, is gratified to see his mentor starting to make a positive impact at Celtic following a difficult start to his tenure.
“You could see that game at Aberdeen meant a lot to him,” said Johansen. “Like everyone else at Celtic, he wants to be at the top of the table. The way we won the game was great. We didn’t play to our best, but scoring the winner so late when we were a man down was a good feeling for everybody.
“It always takes time to adapt to a new country and culture, but with the gaffer’s reaction that day, I think he’s starting to get there. But hopefully he won’t do a striptease again!
“I obviously knew him better than the rest of the players here but I don’t think anyone had a problem sticking with him through the start of the season. He was talking to us all during that time. It’s going to come good in the end, just give him time. Celtic is going to be successful with him as manager.
“He did well in Norway and doesn’t have any problem explaining to the players what he wants here. He’s very clear on that – he doesn’t need me to help him. He’s fully capable of doing that by himself.
“I speak with him in English when all of the players are around. That’s how it should be – it’s a kind of respect. They wouldn’t understand what we were saying otherwise.
“If I talk with him alone, I can talk in Norwegian, but if there’s anyone else there I will talk in English.
“It’s out of respect for the other players and the rest of the staff. If they want to be part of the conversation, that’s the way it should be.
“Maybe sometimes people forget he’s so young. But that’s the kind of pressure we have at the club. It doesn’t matter if you are a player of 18 or 27, the expectation is the same. I think that’s the same with the manager. That’s just how Celtic is.”
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