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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ex-cop Johnsen not missing a beat with Nagoya


By GUS FIELDING

MIYOSHI, Aichi Pref. (Kyodo) Nagoya Grampus Eight's Norwegian international striker Frode Johnsen used to get a kick out of preventing punters from scoring by tackling drug dealers in predawn raids.

Johnsen breaks into a broad grin as he recalls one of his "winning goals" as a police cadet, though one can detect a sense of relief that he has been able to make a successful career out of scoring for punters instead.

"I had one year practicing as a regular policeman and did arrest someone. It was for narcotics so he deserved it," Johnsen said in a recent interview.

"His house was about 400 meters away. We swooped from behind a bush and he ran away but I caught him with a diving tackle, scored the winning goal, so to speak," joked the 32-year-old.

Scoring goals is certainly something the towering former Rosenborg striker has not had a problem doing since he arrested Nagoya's slide after signing an 18-month deal last summer.

Johnsen marked his arrival in style with a debut double in a 3-2 win at JEF United Chiba in July and went on to bag 10 goals in 17 league outings to finish the season as the club's top scorer.

"It's been amazing for me. When I came I think we had only something like 11 points from 14 games. We had a lot of draws but obviously you don't get many points out of draws," said Johnsen.

"The team did very well in the autumn and we showed that we could win against the best teams also. We have to be more stable, but for me it was a perfect start of course and made everything much more simple."

Capped 33 times for his country, Johnsen's prowess in front of goal only became apparent when he switched from midfield to a more advanced role. He joined Rosenborg from Odd Grenland in 2000 and became a regular on the scoresheet to help Norway's most successful club continue their domination of the top flight.

However, Rosenborg relinquished their 13-year stranglehold on the "Tippeligaen" in 2005, and Johnsen, fed up with "criticism and negative things in the club" that followed, wanted to move to pastures new and eventually turned down an offer to go Russia to join Nagoya.

"(Nagoya manager) Sef Vergoosen knew an agent or another coach or something like that and checked up on me. Nagoya didn't see me many times, they just needed a big tall guy and they knew I could score goals," said Johnsen.

Johnsen did not disappoint and Vergoosen deserves a pat on the back for signing the man who has not only turned Nagoya's fortunes around, but also got their fans believing they can finally shed the perennial underachievers tag and mount a serious bid for the title

"There was pressure on the club to find a striker but I told them that the most important thing is to find a good one. And a good one is somebody who is important for the team," said Vergoosen.

"Frode is important. Everyone knows he is strong in the air and strong with his feet and he gives everybody confidence. He is a very hard worker and his behavior is excellent, especially among the Japanese players."

"Ten goals or 15 goals, this is not important for me. The player, his mentality and his quality, that is what is really important," added the Dutchman.

Nagoya enjoyed a strong run-in to the 2006 campaign, winning five, drawing two and losing just one of their last eight matches to finish a respectable if unremarkable seventh in the table.

Johnsen believes the team can do even better this season but has warned against unrealistic expectations and says it will take time before Nagoya can compare to the likes of Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka.

"There are four or five teams that are really on a high level and really hard to beat and you have to work very hard to compete with those teams. Of course Urawa Reds are a very hard team, Gamba are also very strong," said Johnsen.

"We have got a lot of young players that need one or two more years experience playing in the J. League. The realistic target is to get the same position as last year or maybe higher. We should not set our sights too high as we could get disappointed."

"A lot of time is required to build a really strong team and we have a way to go before you can start comparing us to the four best teams in the J. League. A top five finish would be very good for us."



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