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Johansen looking for new worlds to conquer

THIS title-winning business is becoming second nature to Stefan Johansen.

Stefan Johansen celebrates winning his second league championship in five months. Picture: SNS
Stefan Johansen celebrates winning his second league championship in five months. Picture: SNS

Having helped unfashionable Stromsgodset to their first Norwegian Tippeligaen title in 43 years in November, the 23-year-old midfielder recorded a rare personal milestone by securing his second European top-flight league championship in just over five months at Firhill on Wednesday night. But while some of the emotions were recognisable, let's just say there is only one team he wants to be going into the Champions League qualifying battle with.

The Scottish champions could quite easily encounter their Norwegian counterparts on the 'Champions Path' qualifying route to the group stages of Europe's glamour club competition this summer. However, a meeting with his former club - even midway through their domestic season - is hardly a prospect which fills Johansen with foreboding. "That would be too bad for them," the Norwegian says with a smile.

Having scored in a 4-0 win against FK Haugesund which clinched Stromsgodset's triumph on the last day of the season, there was a sense of deja vu for Johansen on Wednesday night when he scored to help Celtic breast the winning tape in some style for their third title in a row. But in another sense, things could hardly have been more different. Unlike his former club, which has finished as champions just twice in their 107-year history, Johansen has learned quickly that racking up league titles is simply the default setting at Celtic.

"In Norway, it was exactly the same as this - the fans were storming the pitch," said Johansen. "But maybe it was different because, at Celtic, we are expected to win the championship whereas with Stromsgodset we had not won it for 43 years so it was a huge, huge thing. But I can assure you that it's the same great feeling that I have now that I had then."

The dynamics of the Parkhead club's seasons have changed these days, typically revolving around a title party in the spring then building to a crescendo in the Champions League qualifiers in July/August. Johansen, who will be offered down time to compensate for his dual title-winning exploits, knows the job is only half done but fully expects to complete it by the time the qualifiers come round.

"This just gives us more motivation," said Johansen. "As the manager said, we now start our preparation for the Champions League. We want to reach 100 points. We still have some things to do but it is difficult to not look forward to the Champions League.

"I could have played in it with my former team also but I had a chance to come to a club like Celtic. This is one of Europe's biggest teams and to play for this team is a dream. We have a good chance to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. You need to have the ball to score and we are a good possession team who likes to go forwards so I think this team will fit Europe perfectly."

Johansen arrived in Glasgow undercooked, following a national team get-together in Dubai during the Christmas period, but Neil Lennon has wasted little time in integrating him into the team pattern. Never a prolific player, it may be unrealistic to expect him to maintain his current goal rate - his goal at Firhill was his second in four days - but there is increasing evidence that the club is a good fit for him both as a player and personality.

"I wasn't match fit when I came but he [Lennon] gave me a chance after Joe [Ledley] moved on," said Johansen, part of a reshaped midfield trio alongside Liam Henderson and Scott Brown which must be giving his manager food for thought ahead of the qualifiers. "At Celtic it is about taking your chance when you have it.

"There is such a good feeling to play for this team, in front of these fantastic supporters. We play some lovely football in my opinion. It's good that we won the league in a bit of style and not just a 1-0 victory from a boring game.

"At Stromsgodset I was more of a defensive midfielder so I was not allowed to go forward that much like I do here. Last year I had the most assists but I only scored four or five goals. Of course I want to score but it is also important to move teams and defenders to help the strikers score. I'm scoring now and getting to know the other players a little better every day - so to hell with the break."

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