Mumbai: John Johnson’s influence in the Bengaluru FC backline speaks for itself. Having taken to Indian football like a duck to water, the Englishman has established himself as a backbone for the Blues, lifting two titles during his three seasons under the helm of Ashley Westwood. During that period, he also bagged the I-League best defender of the season award twice.
A fan favourite now, the West Block Blues faithful chant his name like he is one of their own. His services were sorely missed as the club bowed out of the AFC Cup in the final stages of the inter-zonal play-offs.
Now as they gear up for their first ever season in the Indian Super League (ISL), Bengaluru will rest hopes on the lanky centre-back once again to keep things tight at the back. But according to Johnson, things aren’t going to come easy as they embrace a bigger challenge.
“Everything in the ISL is on a bigger scale. You have bigger fans, better pitches, better stadiums, more quality, more foreigners and better Indian players. I feel everything’s gone up by 20% more. Through the years, the standard of football has improved considerably and it’s going to be a bigger challenge than before,” he said during an exclusive media interaction here.
A youth product of Middlesbrough’s academy, Johnson featured only in one Premier League game for the club during the 2008-09 season, making his debut as a substitute during their 5-0 hammering of Chelsea. That was followed by a loan stint with League One club Tranmere Rovers before transferring to League Two club Northampton Town where he went on to captain the club.
Fortunes soon took a turn after Johnson suffered a frightening knee injury that saw him released by the club. The defender underwent a surgery and soon followed Northampton Town centre-back partner Ashley Westwood’s footsteps to India.
“It was difficult to be out. I was with Northampton for 4 years and I also captained the club. It was a fantastic time and a good learning curve as a young player. But that came to an end and the opportunity opened up in India, which turned out to be an amazing decision. I’ve enjoyed every bit of my time at Bengaluru FC. Setbacks like this happen to most players during their career and I think they only make you stronger in the long run. You do your rehab, you come back and you’re even hungrier which was the case when I came here and it’s been a good journey for me so far,” Johnson added.
With the departure of Westwood, the English central defender has had a different role to play under new boss Albert Roca. The former Barcelona assistant is now building the team around Johnson, by playing out from the back.
“Both Ashley and Roca are different in their philosophies. Ashley was a very driven coach and more hands-on, very aggressive and our team reflected his personality. He played a lot more direct. Roca likes to play from the back. But both are very good in their own philosophies, both have been fantastic to work under. I’ve learnt under Ashley and now even more under Roca using different styles. Both of them have improved my personal game and introduced me to different ideas I hadn’t seen before, “ Johnson explained.
With strikers such as Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Adrian Colunga and Kalu Uche set to take the league by storm, the Englishman will be relishing many fiery duels....