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Johnsen The Traveller Seeks Settled Base

The man of many clubs is viewing Montreal as a longer than usual stop-off point.

Johnsen celebrates after scoring against Melbourne Victory in Ulsan Hyundai’s successful assault on the Asian Champions League.
Xinhua/Nikku via Getty Images

As the old joke goes.... he’s had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus...

But Bjorn Johnsen (29), laid back and relaxed in the afternoon sunshine at his Alicante home, brought some interesting narrative to this morning’s exchange with Montreal’s weather-jealous sports media.

After 11 clubs in 9 years he’s ready to settle somewhere longer it seems.

“We’re having a baby soon so we wanted to settle down for at least three years and maybe more. I want to come to Montreal and make myself indispensable so that the club wants me to stay,” said Johnsen.

The Norwegian went on to explain that his coming to Montreal was down to Olivier Renard, for whom he almost signed when he was leaving Den Haag ADO at the end of 2017/18. At the time Renard’s Standard Liege were pursuing the striker as was AZ Alkmaar.

And although the Belgian club had just finished 2nd in the league championship and qualified for the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round, the opportunity to remain in Holland with Alkmaar was more to Johnsen’s liking.

“I thought it best to remain in Holland, a country I was getting to know. And I was by now also familiar with the league, whereas I had never before played in Belgium.”

ADO Den Haag v FC Oss - Club Friendly
Bjorn Johnsen points the way in the green and yellow of FC Den Haag ADO.
Photo by Angelo Blankespoor/Soccrates/Getty Images

AZ was also a club challenging the top clubs in Eredivisie football, finishing the season behind only PSV and Ajax and topping Feyenoord.

Johnsen, his goals propelling Den Haag into the Eredivisie’s Europa League play-offs, had just concluded his finest season, 19 goals in 34 league games.

To place that in perspective, in Montreal Impact’s 9 seasons as an MLS club, only one player, Marco Di Vaio, managed to equal or better Johnsen’s tally from his first season in Holland.

Di Vaio registered 20 times in 33 MLS-appearances for the Impact in 2013. Next best was Piatti whose best-ever season tally was 17, which he achieved twice.

It seems then the potential exists for Johnsen to become only the second IMFC/CFMTL player to plunder 20 goals in a single season. He will need to start games for it to happen though, and that’s not a given.

The chance to speak with Thierry Henry didn’t arrive prior to the Norwegian signing on the dotted line, but there were assurances from Olivier Renard that all was fine and Johnsen was happy to put pen to paper.

He displayed a good knowledge of MLS despite never having played in the league. His career took off in a different direction than what the norm is for an American college student. Encouraged by his father, instead Johnsen set off for Europe at age 18. He felt it took too long to make it pro through the US college system.

His first real break came at Lisbon-based, Atletico Club Portugal in that country’s second tier.

“They didn’t pay me well at my Portuguese club. Benfica were one of the clubs interested, but it fell through and I received an offer from Bulgaria I couldn’t refuse.

After Bulgaria, I went to Hearts in Scotland before going to Holland with Den Haag and then Alkmaar.

“I’m still young, but I have experience,” claims Johnsen, “... and I think that’s what Montreal was looking for.”.

Johnsen scores for Norway against the Faroe Islands in a qualifying game for the 2020 Euros, in Torshavn, June 2019.
Photo credit should read TERJE PEDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

The emergence of Erling Halaand and Jens Petter Hauge, in addition to Josh King (Everton) and Alexander Sorloth (RB Leipzig) has left Montreal’s new signing further down the Norwegian national team pecking order (Johnsen has 16 caps and 5 goals), something he hopes to put right once he settles in Montreal, although he sounded fairly relaxed in the event future national team opportunities fail to emerge.

“If they call me, they call me. If they don’t then that’s fine too.”

Johnsen has managed to get goals wherever he’s gone whether it’s from a starting position in the team, or thrown on from the bench in an emergency.

My contacts in Edinburgh didn’t have too much to say about the former Hearts striker who stayed only for a year, although they weren’t by any means scathing about his contribution either.

But it’s that year with Den Haag in Holland’s top division which allows Montreal fans to dream once again of possessing a striker that can bang in 20 goals per season.

Bjorn Johnsen will be confident of doing so - he just needs the games to make it happen.