FIVE years ago, Stefan Johansen was a stroppy teenager at a Norwegian second-tier, mid-table club with his career at a crossroads. He admits that pizza and Playstation featured too high on his list of priorities as his prospects of fulfilling his potential as one of his country’s brightest talents hung in the balance.
It has been a remarkable transformation for Johansen since that 2010 campaign at Bodo-Glimt in northern Norway when he found himself being played out of position as a winger.
“The most important thing for me under Ronny was becoming a 24-hour athlete”Stefan Johansen
A move to Stromsgodset to work for the first time under Ronny Deila re-energised the man who has become the epitome of the dedication, fitness and dynamism the Celtic manager demands from his players.
Johansen’s success this season was recognised on Sunday when he was named PFA Scotland Player of the Year, adding to the Norwegian Player of the Year prize he collected in 2014.
There was a sense of vindication for Johansen as he reflected on his latest individual honour, both in terms of how he has addressed his own weaknesses and proved a point to some of those who doubted him earlier in his career.
“There are a couple of people who I have proved wrong but there’s no point in me saying their names now,” said Johansen.
“They know what they were thinking. I don’t care about that now. I knew in the end if I worked hard I would do well in football. Some people talked about my attitude, that I needed to change it. Some people like to think they know more than they do. I’m just happy that I’m now here at Celtic and doing well. The people who said that, they will know it for themselves. I have to be honest, though, my attitude has changed a little bit. I have always had a talent for football. But at the end of my time at Bodo-Glimt, sometimes I was played as a winger and I spoke up and said it wasn’t my position. I got some chances but in the end my contract ran out there and I didn’t care too much. In the last six months or year there, I kind of had a bad attitude.
“But when I spoke to Ronny and he wanted me at Stromsgodset, I just felt like I had a new energy. He took me there and believed in where I felt I should play. He believed in me as a better footballer and allowed me to show my skills.
“I worked really hard. If I get the chance, I will always work hard. But when you are young and you feel something is unfair, you don’t think too much about the consequences. I always believed I could be a good footballer. At the end of my time at Bodo-Glimt, I felt it was time for me to find a new motivation. I was never thinking about quitting football or anything like that.
“Football has always been the most important thing for me. Even when I went to school, I cared more about the gym than the other classes. Football has always been too important for me to give it up.
“I knew in the end it was going to go well for me. But I can also be honest and say that when you are younger, some players need to be told what to do. I was a typical one of them. But the guys who are telling you also need to understand you.
“At Stromsgodset, it changed for me under Ronny. He had the same ideas then which he came to Celtic with. It’s about eating right and sleeping right.
“As a footballer, you have maybe one or two training sessions every day. It’s not like working from 8am to 4pm in an office. You have to be prepared, that when you are out on the pitch you need to be 100 per cent every time. Train as hard as you can and develop. He also looks at small details in your game. But the most important thing for me under Ronny was becoming a 24-hour athlete.
“I had to think about everything I did, not sit on the computer until midnight or whatever. Go to bed at 11pm instead. Those are the typical things I needed to learn. When you are young you don’t know better. You think having pizza is OK, but it’s not how it works. I have learned so much over the last few years, things about sleep and recovering after games. That’s the reason I can play 60 or 70 games in a season.
“I’m very proud of the PFA award. This is my first full season at Celtic and I’m very grateful to win it. You can see the quality players we have at Celtic and also the other players in the league. There are a lot of good players there. To get this prize means a lot to me. Since I got the award I’ve had so many text messages from people maybe I normally don’t talk to from Norway. You feel a little bit of how big it is, even back in Norway.”
Like Celtic as a whole, Johansen has got better as this season has progressed. He started the campaign in a holding role but has flourished in a more advanced position which has allowed him to contribute eight goals and seven assists in his team’s latest title win.
“The start of the season was tough and we needed to bounce back from that,” he added. “That shows your mentality. Since I’ve got the chance as a ‘number ten’, I’ve worked on my role there and the chance to score goals it gives you. I think it suits me better. Scott Brown and Nir Bitton have come in to play in the deeper positions and the way they control the game is so important for us. It makes my job much easier. If you find the pockets up there, you know they will find you.”
While Johansen collected the PFA’s Player of the Year prize, his mentor Deila missed out on the Manager of the Year honour from his peers which went to
Inverness boss John Hughes.
“He [Hughes] did well, but I don’t know what more Ronny can do,” said Johansen. “We wanted the treble, of course, but you cannot complain about two trophies in a season. But maybe it’s because the expectations at Celtic are so high that Ronny didn’t win the award.”
In good company: previous winners of players’ player of the year
1978: Derek Johnstone (Rangers)
1979: Paul Hegarty (Dundee Utd)
1980: Davie Provan (Celtic)
1981: Mark McGhee (Aberdeen)
1982: Sandy Clark (Airdrie)
1983: Charlie Nicholas (Celtic)
1984: Willie Miller (Aberdeen)
1985: Jim Duffy (Morton)
1986: Richard Gough (Dundee United)
1987: Brian McClair (Celtic)
1988: Paul McStay (Celtic)
1989: Theo Snelders (Aberdeen)
1990: Jim Bett (Aberdeen)
1991: Paul Elliott (Celtic)
1992: Ally McCoist (Rangers)
1993: Andy Goram (Rangers)
1994: Mark Hateley (Rangers)
1995: Brian Laudrup (Rangers)
1996: Paul Gascoigne (Rangers)
1997: Paolo Di Canio (Celtic)
1998: Jackie McNamara (Celtic)
1999: Henrik Larsson (Celtic)
2000: Mark Viduka (Celtic)
2001: Henrik Larsson (Celtic)
2002: Lorenzo Amoruso (Rangers)
2003: Barry Ferguson (Rangers)
2004: Chris Sutton (Celtic)
2005: Fernando Ricksen (Rangers) & John Hartson (Celtic) – joint winners
2006: Shaun Maloney (Celtic)
2007: Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic)
2008: Aiden McGeady (Celtic)
2009: Scott Brown (Celtic)
2010: Steven Davis (Rangers)
2011: Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic)
2012: Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
2013: Michael Higdon (Motherwell)
2014: Kris Commons (Celtic)