THERE was only one issue for Stefan Johansen on Wednesday night when he was handed the Celtic captaincy for the first time… finding the right words for the pre-match huddle.
The Norwegian midfielder, given the armband for the 2-0 victory over Partick Thistle in the absence of the suspended Scott Brown, admitted he felt under pressure to gee-up his troops in the pre-match ritual. “It was OK, though,” the 24-year-old said. “We talk about what we’re going to do in the locker room so it’s just a last few words. But I struggle with my English.”
That is about all the likeable performer is struggling for at the minute. A strong contender for the player of the year awards, he already feels anointed in being asked by Ronny Deila to lead the side out at Celtic Park in midweek for a win that allowed the club to retain a seven-point advantage over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership ahead of the trip to Inverness tomorrow.
“I think Wednesday was a successful night for the team. To be the Celtic captain is a big honour for me and a big responsibility to take it when Broony was suspended. I’m proud,” said Johansen, who was vice-captain at previous club Stromsgodset. “I enjoyed it and I think we did our jobs, we got the three points and maybe we should have scored more goals but I am happy with the three points.”
Told on the morning of the Thistle encounter he would be skippering the side, Johansen’s finding it “exciting” did not blind him to the need to prepare “as normal”. He also performed in his normal forceful fashion. Netting the second goal on the night, a stylish strike took his tally for the season to 12. He has scored in five of the club’s past seven Premiership outings.
Johansen believes in the need to act like a captain with or without the badge of office. “It’s important that you are a leader whether you have the armband or not, but I think it is a big honour to be captain at this club,” he said.
“We all need to be leaders out there, and keep talking. I think guys like Virgil [van Dijk] and Nir [Bitton] and Jason [Denayer], everyone, they keep talking. I try to do that. It’s important that we talk to each other. With the atmosphere, especially at Celtic Park, it is difficult but we just need to try to talk and press. It’s small details but I think the whole team is good at that.”
Celtic’s ability to keep ticking off the wins is allowing Johansen to relish each encounter, even if they are coming around every three or four days. The midfielder is on course to make his 50th appearance of the season in the rearranged fixture at home to Kilmarnock next Wednesday but, in his bid for his team to “have two more trophies” to add to the League Cup they banked, he seems unperturbed by the exertions being required of him.
Such has been his impact, many expect that more than three trophies could come Johansen’s way before the summer. Player of the year in Norway in 2013, he recognises the importance of the accolade, but also its place in any footballer’s pecking order. “If you are voted player of the year then you know you have done a good season of course, but I am honest and the most important thing for me is if we can go out there and win the treble. That will mean the most to me.”
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