Johansen dives into Celtic's off-pitch initiatives

STEFAN JOHANSEN is down with the kids.

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Celtic's Norwegian star Stefan Johansen joins young Jamie Henderson (13) from Milton  to help announce a brand new partnership between  the club  and Scottish Disability Sport
Celtic's Norwegian star Stefan Johansen joins young Jamie Henderson (13) from Milton to help announce a brand new partnership between the club and Scottish Disability Sport

His baseball cap turned skip back. His jeans drainpipe-tight.

His white canvas trainers scuffed from the kickabout he has just enjoyed with the boys and girls taking part in the Scottish Disability Sport event at Ravenscraig Sports Facility.

Celtic FC Foundation donated £20,000 to help fund the West of Scotland Para-sport Festival, and the young Norwegian is there to ensure maximum publicity is achieved.

However, unlike so many players who have to be coerced and conscripted into lending their support to such an occasion, Johansen is a happy volunteer.

The 23-year-old has a social conscience, and an awareness of how fortunate he is compared to others for who fate has decided a poorer hand should be dealt.

It's the side of football and footballers not always seen, and the beauty of this rare glimpse is that it is entirely genuine.

Perhaps it is down to culture, as Norway is a country which prides itself on equality for all.

But a few minutes speaking to Johansen lets you know it also about the man.

He knows how fortunate and privileged he is, and is only too willing to pose for pictures and have a run around with the children for who such a day out at this superb facility makes them feel better about themselves.

"In Norway, I was involved with helping young kids who were trying to develop in sport," said Johansen between games.

"But I think this is even more important because it is a big thing for these children and a big thing for us, also, if we can help them.

"That is important. So, when I was asked to come along to this event, I was glad to be able to agree.

"I like to do things like this. If I can help the kids, it means a lot to me, also."

Johansen is making a habit of putting a smile on the face of people in his adopted homeland.

Celtic fans, who, with the odd exception, did not have the Norwegian international on their radar before news broke he was a January target for Neil Lennon, have quickly grown to appreciate his skill, athleticism and will-to-win.

So, it was a body blow for the supporters, as well as the player, when he limped out of the win over Hearts at Tynecastle on January 22, his left ankle having taken a heavy kick.

Six productive games into his Hoops career, and with his form improving by the week, it was untimely, to say the least.

"It is never good to be injured, even when you have not been playing well," said Johansen.

"You want to be on the pitch all of the time. But you just have to stay positive.

"I was able to get back for 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the game against Inverness, then I played the first half of the international against the Czech Republic last Wednesday.

"Now, I have been training this week with my team-mates, and everything is looking good. So, I am happy and looking forward to Friday's game against Kilmarnock."

With Nir Biton and James Forrest out with injuries picked up on international duty, and Virgil van Dijk suspended, Lennon will already have his name pencilled in for a match in which Celtic can go 24 points clear.

The ease with which Johansen has integrated into the Celtic side - despite coming in off the back of almost two months without playing following the completion of a full season with Stromsgodset - has been a huge bonus for Lennon, who considers this a season of transition for his squad.

Van Dijk also made the leap effortlessly. But in the other corner of the dressing room sits a clutch of summer signings who have taken much longer to find their feet.

Biton is there now, but Amido Balde, Derk Boerrigter and Teemu Pukki still have a way to go.

Diplomatically, Johansen does not wish to offer an opinion on the difficulties of others, but is happy to speak about his own circumstances.

"I don't know about these guys and their situation," he said. "I just know that, every holiday, I am not the kind of guy who likes to just lie on the beach and relax.

"I want to work out, and I do. I have a programme from my previous club, Stromsgodset, and I follow that.

"I think it is important to be fit as soon as possible."

He continued: "Of course, I should not lie, I knew that maybe I was going to be moving to a new club in January.

"So, it was important for me, if I was going to come to a team in their mid-season that, if I was going to get into the side, I was not too far behind the other guys in terms of fitness.

"I had not played a competitive match since November, when the Norwegian season ended.

"But now I've had a few games here and I am match-fit again."

Johansen is also battle-­hardened, physically and mentally. He met the challenge of playing for a club where defeat is considered cause for a post mortem.

He got his first taste of that when Aberdeen came to Parkhead last month and knocked the holders out of the Scottish Cup.

The Dons repeated the feat when they ended Celtic's unbeaten stretch in the league while Johansen was recovering from his ankle injury.

He now believes he knows how important it is not to lose. "I think you can feel it from the first day," he explained.

"The thing is, though, you don't actually experience what it means to lose until it happens.

"Then, when you have that experience, you realise how much it means. It does not happen often. But, when it does, it is no fun."

It's not just about getting the points, however, and Johansen accepts this. He said: "I think there is a pressure to entertain.

"The people have not come to see 11 guys playing in 30 metres of the pitch. They want to see us attacking, and I like that style."

Johansen also likes the welcome he has received in the city, and revealed: "I got stopped in my car the other day and a guy told me, 'If you need something, call.'

"Scottish people are very similar to Norwegians. They are very open and they want to help you."

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