Life a beach for new Bhoy after Hoops come calling during Far East holiday

RELAXING on a Thai beach, the sun recharging a body which had completed the most successful year in his football career, Stefan Johansen thought life couldn't get any better.

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Johansen has checked into Paradise
Johansen has checked into Paradise

Now he knows he couldn't have been more wrong.

The holiday idyll was about to be swapped for Paradise as Celtic came calling - literally.

The phone call which Johansen received from his agent during his break just a few weeks after helping Stromsgodset clinch the Norwegian league delivered the first indication his dream move was about to become a reality.

The 23-year-old had no hesitation in telling his representative that he should let Celtic know he wanted to make the move happen, and gave him the mandate to push the negotiations along.

The culmination of the next few weeks, which for Johansen, felt like a lifetime, was him putting pen to paper on a contract which will make him a Celt for the next three-and-a-half years.

The Celtic fans will not get the chance to see him in action for a few weeks as the effort of leading Stromsgodset to the title and winning the Norwegian Midfielder of the Year award took its toll. Johansen has not played since mid-November, and will need a mini-pre-season before he will be ready to make his debut for the Hoops.

But, for those keen to see what £2million buys you in today's market, he is determined to make it worth their wait.

Don't be fooled by the quiet demeanour, or the slightness of build.

This is a driven young man, motivated by his own commitment to be all he can be, and the self-confessed source of any pressure placed upon him.

Expectation is not seen as a burden, but as an incentive.

Having first burst to prominence in Norway in their 2012 season, that's how he approached last year.

And it turned out to be the defining 12 months of his life, as his move to Parkhead has confirmed.

Johansen had previously been linked with a move to Germany, but is convinced the timing of this transfer is perfect.

"With Stromsgodset, we had already won our place in the Champions League next summer," he explained.

"But when Celtic come in for you, what can you say? It is a dream come true.

"And this move has come at the right time. I feel ready for this.

"That's the most important thing. I believe in myself, and that I am ready, and that inspires me."

Johansen has made it no secret that playing in the Champions League was one of the biggest carrots dangled by Celtic.

With Stromsgodset, contesting the qualifiers - if they got there - was considered their ceiling.

At Celtic, the recent involvement in the last 16 has set the bar much higher, perhaps unrealistically so, as this season has shown.

Johansen is a student of the game, and recognises the expectation level that exists here.

"Of course I understand that, and that is the way it should be with a club like Celtic," he insisted with no hint of trepidation.

"This is a big club, and everyone expects us to win every single week and to go into the Champions League.

"But that's fine with me because I want to win every time I go onto the field, even in training. That's the kind of player I am. The pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself."

As he posed for his signing pictures in a near-deserted stadium, wearing the No.25 shirt with a smile which would do justice to a kid in a sweetie shop, Johansen was already casting his mind forward to occasions when every seat will be filled, and the atmosphere will make the air crackle.

"I love the idea of that," he said. "You should not be afraid of that. If you are, then you should find another job.

"When you are 12 or 14, you dream about playing for your national team and a big club in Europe."

In fact, when he was 14, Johansen was uprooting himself from his small home town of Vardo in northern Norway - where they had just one football pitch and an indoor hall offering nothing more than a wooden floor - and heading to Bodo to pursue a career as a professional footballer with Bodo/Glimt.

"My mother and my brother came with me," he recalled. "It was quite a big decision, but, for me, it was a really easy choice. I wanted to do it very badly.

"I had something to aim for. I got a professional contract when I was 16, which is when it's legal in Norway, so I was very happy to be there. In the end, though, I needed a move and Stromsgodset were the best option."

The two-and-a-half years spent there brought him a taste for winning trophies which he plans to continue now he is with Celtic.

His ability on the ball, eye for a pass, and strong running were skills honed on the artificial surface at the 7,500-capacity Marienlyst Stadium in Drammen.

Arriving in the middle of a very wet Scottish winter, the surfaces he is about to encounter are unlikely to be quite as true, though the immaculate green swathe at Celtic Park has defied all Mother Nature could throw at it over the past few months to remain pristine.

Ball players are thought to enjoy an artificial surface, but Johansen can't wait to get going on the real thing.

He said: "Actually, I like natural grass much better.

"Artificial grass is okay. But, when you have a pitch like we have here at Celtic Park, you can't get anything better to play on.

"So, as a passer, I am looking forward to doing that. Of course, I understand there will be places we go where the pitches will be heavier. But I am not worried about that."

Indeed, very little appears to be worrying this cool Norwegian who truly believes he has found Paradise.

Football

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