Celtic ace Stefan is head and shoulders above the rest at long last

STEFAN JOHANSEN waited all his career to become a champion…now he stands on the brink of realising that ambition twice in the space of four months.

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Johansen is about to win his second title in the space of four months with the Hoops
Johansen is about to win his second title in the space of four months with the Hoops

Having led Stromsgodset to the Norwegian Premier League title in November, the 23-year-old can follow up with Celtic in the SPFL Premiership this week.

However, the contrast between the two successes is stark.

Stromsgodset were winning their first title since 1970, and only the second in their 107-year history.

Celtic are homing in on three-in-a-row, and their 45th title in total.

Something which will be exactly the same, however, is the thrill Johansen will derive from being part of both title wins

And, whether it is Firhill tomorrow or Parkhead when they face Ross County on Saturday, whenever the Hoops get over the line, he will savour every single moment of it.

That's what he did in the tiny Marienlyst Stadium in Drammen in south-east Norway when Stromsgodset clinched the 2013 Tippeligaen.

Johansen recalled: "When we won the Norwegian title it was crazy.

"Stromsgodset are a very small club, and not expected to win the championship.

"You have Rosenborg and Molde, who are the biggest clubs. They have a lot more money than Stromsgodset.

"So, it was huge for us to win the title, especially as it had been 43 years since we last won it.

"It is different here because the fans expect Celtic to win the title every year.

"But, I knew about that before I came to Glasgow, and I am just enjoying this pressure and playing for the club."

No matter how many times Celtic fans get to celebrate becoming champions, they do it in style.

But Johansen revealed there was almost a surreal atmosphere when Stromsgodset sealed the deal on the last day of their glorious campaign.

"The day we actually won the title, the town all celebrated," he explained.

"Nobody went to work the following day - including the players.

"It was the last game of the season, against Haugesund, who were in third place, and we knew we had to win.

"At half-time it was still 0-0, but we won 4-0."

The modest Johansen - Norwegian Player of the Year - omitted to mention he scored the second to settle the nerves.

"Rosenborg could have beaten us to the title, and they also won that day, 3-0 away to Lillestrom," he continued.

"So our victory was vital because, in the end, we won the title by just one point."

Considering Stromsgodset had bounced back from almost going out of business, and only regained their top division place seven years earlier, it was a remarkable story, giant-killing and a Lazarus-style revival all rolled into one.

Johansen was very proud to play an important part in it, and said: "Stromsgodset have maybe the best fans in all of Norway.

"Rosenborg and Molde also have some good fans, but the Stromsgodset supporters are fantastic.

"The stadium holds just six or seven thousand, but it is always very noisy.

"It's a great atmosphere for such a small club."

Never better than on November 10, when the their long wait for a second title came to a thrilling climax.

And, when the final whistle blew, Johansen knew he had to cut his way through the invading fans to find a very special supporter.

"When we won that game, the fans came on to the pitch to celebrate with the players," he recalled.

"That was a great moment.My little brother, Simen, and my mother had come down from our home town for that game, and I was looking for him on the pitch.

"Simen is nine and I put him up on my shoulders so that he could enjoy it all.

"Because he does not live in Stromgodset, it was huge for him.

"He is young, and he enjoys playing football, so it was a great experience for him and a day he will never forget."

Johansen continued: "I will not have any family over for the games this week, when we can win the title.

"And I don't think fans are allowed to come on to the pitch here the way they did at Stromsgodset.

"But, you could see on Saturday how much support they give us. In the away game against Kilmarnock the other week, too, it was unbelievable the backing they gave us.

"We are so many points ahead, but they still travel to the games and cheer for us. It's fantastic. I am looking forward to seeing how they celebrate winning the title.

"I knew the fans were great, but since I have been here they have been terrific."

This is not just empty rhetoric from the likeable young Scandinavian, who speaks perfect English - he even managed to make a joke about his new haircut being the reason he could see the ball to head home his first goal for the club last weekend - but heartfelt appreciation.

After the final whistle blew on Saturday, he was out on his feet, doubled over looking for the breath.

However, before he went up the tunnel, man-of-the-match Johansen summoned the energy to go over to the Celtic fans and applaud them.

It was a mark of his class, and something he believes is incumbent upon him.

"At the end of the game against St Mirren, I was tired, but I went over to the fans because I appreciate them so much," he explained.

"It's not something you can take for granted that they will come to the games.

"These are the guys who attend our games week in, week out. It's great to have them here, so I want to give them something back.

"On Saturday I scored my first goal for Celtic, and the least I could do was give them my applause at the end of the game because they deserve it."

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