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Johnsen & Montreal Hope Eredivisie Form Can be Bjorn Again

Impact’s new Norwegian striker was second-top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie in 2017/18

Ulsan Hyundai v Vissel Kobe - AFC Champions League Semi Final
Bjorn Johnsen celebrates his goal for Ulsan Hyundai that took the Asian Champions League semi-final match into extra time. His Korean team eventually overcame Vissel Kobe of the J-League 2-1.
Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

A first, careless, glimpse of the headlines and you may have thought CF Montreal had just signed the British Prime Minister, but it’s...

“... not Boris Johnson. It’s Bjorn Johnsen!”

So, thankfully it’s not the short, chubby, hay-stack haired politician crossing the Atlantic to become CF Montreal’s new centre-forward. Genius in some ways Boris may be, but I don’t think he’s the 15 goals-a-season striker we’re looking for in Quebec!

But is Bjorn that guy?

Well, Montreal fans will look to his one real flagship season when he finished second-top scorer, taking the Dutch Eredivisie by storm with unfashionable Den Haag ADO. That just happened to be his next stop after a bumpy ride with Hearts in Scotland’s Premier Division.

The Norwegian is a player who doesn’t hang around the same place for too long, as 11 different clubs in the past 9 years testify. Should he remain in Montreal to the end of his two-year deal it will represent new ground. He’s never spent that long at any of his professional clubs before.

But undoubtedly the tall and mobile striker managed to plunder goals wherever he’s gone, however playing time has been at a premium since leaving The Hague. In his last three seasons he’s managed only 25 starts for AZ Alkmaar, Rosenborg BK and Ulsan Hyundai combined. Another 48 appearances from the bench has enabled him to tally a goal return of 24, almost half of those with the K-League club.

His main break came after a season with Atletico Club Portugal in that country’s Segunda B where he won successive Player of the Month awards at the beginning of 2014/15. Johnsen’s goals helped save the club from relegation, and an offer duly arrived from Litex Lovech, the small-town Bulgarian outfit which had constantly upset the country's established footballing order over the previous two decades.

The money of local petrol businessman Grisha Ganchev had transformed Litex, winning 4 Bulgarian championships and playing regularly on the European stage, but just as Johnsen arrived there, the club’s financial lifeblood was about to disappear.

Ganchev withdrew his backing, transferring it to ailing giant CSKA Sofia, then Litex fell foul of the footballing authorities after walking off in protest at two red cards (when leading 1-0) in a game against Levski Sofia. The punishment was relegation to second-tier football, and so, after not much more than a year, Johnsen was on the move again.

This time it was to the rustic Scottish capital city of Edinburgh and Heart of Midlothian FC. Johnsen managed to win the SPL Player of the month for November after his 2 goals and as many assists, helped the ‘Jambos’ complete the month unbeaten. It included a 2-0 victory over Rangers as well.

17/09/16 LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP . ST JOHNSTONE v HEARTS (1-0) . MCDIARMID PARK - PERTH . Hearts’ Bjorn Johnson in action
Bjorn Johnsen playing for Hearts against St Johnstone in the SPL in 2016.
Photo by Kenny Smith - SNS Group\SNS Group via Getty Images

But it wasn’t an altogether happy season for the club or player. After a second managerial change, Hearts under young coach Ian Cathro managed to win only 5 of their last 22 league games, and a season of promise became shrouded in disappointment well before its end. Johnsen failed to hit the net in any of his last 13 outings with the club.

There was also the not so small matter over an alleged half-time bust-up between Cathro and the Norwegian during one game, prompting Johnsen not to return to second-half action, instead leaving the stadium in a taxi.

But then came that season at Den Haag. Only a hat-trick on the last day of the season by AZ Alkmaar’s Iranian international Alireza Jahanbakhsh prevented Johnsen from winning the Eredivisie’s Golden Boot for most goals in the league season.

He finished on 19, two behind the Alkmaar man.

Johnsen’s end of season could not have been more in contrast with the one previously experienced at Hearts. He managed 9 goals in the last 7 games as Den Haag secured a place in the play-off positions to determine the following season’s Europa League qualifiers.

It was enough for AZ Alkmaar to splash out a $2.5m fee to bring Johnsen in as a replacement for the man who had just beaten him to the goalscoring crown, duly departed to Brighton of the English Premier League.

However all did not go well the following season, the big striker warming the bench more often than starting, yet he still managed half a dozen goals from 22 appearances (only 7 starts).

AZ Alkmaar v Royal Antwerp - UEFA Europa League
Plying for AZ Alkmaar, Johnsen hurdles Antwerp goalkeeper Sinan Bolat in the Europa League tie between the clubs in August 2019.
Photo by Ed van de Pol/Soccrates/Getty Images

A short loan spell followed at Norway’s Rosenborg SK before Asia beckoned and where Johnsen was to become a continental club champion with Ulsan Hyundai. During the season he played second fiddle to Brazilian striker Junior Negrao, restricting his starting appearances, but still managed to get amongst the goals claiming 11 in 10 starts and 21 introductions from the bench.

And so to Montreal...

Johnsen’s physique and style of play will give CFM a dimension they’ve not had previously, but he’s more likely to be considered ‘option’ than guaranteed starter, and perhaps a player more effective emerging from the bench than leading the attack from the first whistle.

Stade Saputo fans however will be hoping the form delivered in his first-ever Eredivisie season with Den Haag will be the marker reproduced, once MLS resumes in early April.