This is getting serious – Signing
Saturday, 24th Jul 2021 17:17 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have signed Stefan Johansen. Permanently. For the same amount they once paid for Sean Goss.
Stefan Johansen is the 30-year-old Norse God of central midfield play.
He was born in the small town of Vardo which, in the far north eastern corner of Norway, is the last bit of the world before there is nothing but sea and the Arctic. Naturally the climate here is warm and inviting, perfect for growing the sort of pristine playing surfaces that excellent young boys can hone fine tricks and flicks on through the toasty summer nights and mild, welcoming winters. Despite these advantages, it nevertheless took slow-developer Stefan until he was a creaking 14-year-old to be taken on by local professional club Bodø/Glimt and even then he didn’t debut for the first team until he was a veteran 16-year-old, turning out a paltry six times as Bodø/Glimt, inevitably, won the league and were promoted to the top division of Norwegian football.
Despite this slow start, by the time he was 19 in 2010 he was a regular in the side and coming out of contract sparking interest from Tromsø, Strømsgodset and all the other Norwegian teams you’ve actually heard of. Johansen made 48 starts and 16 sub appearances for Strømsgodset across the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. This culminated in a first league title for the club in 43 years, with Johansen signing off as the country’s Midfielder of the Year. Having played for the national team at every level from U15 to U23, reaching the semi-final of the 2013 U21 Euros with a victory against England along the way before being beaten by Spain, he made his full debut in September 2013 in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Cyprus. He has since amassed 55 full caps and six goals, captaining the team from 2017 through to his international retirement at the beginning of this year.
All of this opened a path to the tropical climes of Glasgow (little wonder he doesn’t want to leave West London now he’s here, probably starts screaming whenever anything north of Nottingham gets a mention) where Celtic paid £2m for him in the January 2014 transfer window. Here he added another three consecutive league titles in 13/14, 14/15 and 15/16 and a League Cup in 14/15. He was named Norway’s Player of the Year in 2014, Celtic’s Player of the Year in 14/15, and the Scottish PFA’s Players’ Player of the Year that same season. He made 108 starts and six substitute appearances for Celtic over two-and-a-half years, scoring 14 times. Despite Celtic’s hilarious propensity to crash out of European competitions in mid-July in two-legged catastrophes against a gang of Bulgarian mealworm farmers, this did also include 13 Champions League appearances and a further 13 in the Casio League.
All of this gave Fulham, into a second season of Championship football after relegation, a big stiff £2m hard on and he quickly settled into life in the English game with 41 league and cup appearances and 13 goals which made him the club’s joint top scorer with Tom Cairney. Ground out of a dire play-off semi-final by Jaap Stam’s unwatchable Reading side, Fulham and Johansen returned for another swing in 2017/18 and his 49 appearances and eight goals helped them over the line with a semi-final success over hapless Derby and chucklesome Wembley win against Massive Aston Massive Villa Massive. He scored in Fulham’s 2-1 September win at Loftus Road against QPR that season.
Unfortunately, and rather crudely, a pattern formed thereafter whereby Fulham would win promotion, immediately dump the players that got them there in favour of some Hughes/Redknapp/Joorabchian/Fernandes-style trolley dash around the dregs of footballing humanity, get relegated with mounting financial issues, and come crawling back. Johansen has played 12 Premier League games for the Whites, but was absent for much of their 2018/19 shuttle disaster having been loaned back to Championship side West Brom, where he took them into a play-off semi-final defeat to that same Villa team from the year before.
Fulham were promoted straight back automatically at the first time of asking in the Covid-affected 2019/20, Johansen 22 and getting another 14 substitute outings, but was then discarded a second time with only a couple of League Cup outings preceding a January move to QPR. His numbers during that loan spell were formidable…
… despite the remarkable turn around in form from QPR post Christmas, heavily influenced by Johansen’s arrival, their dire record of four wins from the first 23 games meant they fell plenty short of the play-off places. This was the first time in nine seasons as a professional that Johansen hadn’t won a league, promotion, or at least qualified for the play-offs – a run that includes one Norwegian league title, three Scottish league titles, two promotions with Fulham, and a play-off semi-final loss with both the Whites and West Brom.
He has a bigger house than you, a bigger bank balance than you, a bigger dick than you, a better singing voice than you, and a nicer car. His dad could beat your dad in a fight. Sick of being ponsed around by Fulham and terrified by the vague suggestion of interest from Blackburn, he has moved to QPR for a laughable £600k (I’ll take two please) and signed a three-year contract.
"This is a good fit. When the gaffer brought me in last season, I felt the way I play suits the way he wants to play. He has played a big part in making this permanent. I come here where there is a good group of players and staff, and I am very much looking forward to it. The support of the fans on social media means a lot. Of course, I saw the messages and it means I had a good spell here before - hopefully I can do that again. I have played against QPR in front of the fans so I know the noise they create and I can’t wait to be able to play for QPR in front of them.”
“I am absolutely delighted to get Stefan on board. The impact he had here last season, both on and off the pitch, was evident for all to see. He is proven at international level and has quality in abundance. It has taken a lot of work from a lot of people to get this across the line, so it is fantastic that the process has proved fruitful. This is a huge signing for us and I am looking forward to seeing Stef back in the blue and white hoops. The hard work is pointless unless the player wants the move to happen, and Stef made it very clear he was keen to return. He brings experience, he brings quality, he brings a calmness in high-pressurised moments and he has a mentoring impact on the young players, both on matchday and in training. The role of the senior players like Stef, Lee (Wallace), Albert (Adomah) and Charlie (Austin) is so important for us.” - Warbs Warburton
For a while there QPR were, quote, ‘everything that’s wrong with football’. A plaything for rich and famous businessmen, spending vastly beyond its means to try and dope itself to football’s top table, pouring money into the pockets of some of football’s biggest wankers – and the pockets of some of football’s biggest wankers’ agents – while investing nothing in its infrastructure. An academy seen to be there but not there to be seen, a club completely apart from its community and fanbase, the whole thing so dislikeable that even those terminally in love were starting to doubt their life choices.
In these dark days of excess the club followed the Glengarry Glen Ross corporate culture – A B C, A always, B be, C closing. Always be closing. Always, be closing. There wasn’t a problem too big or an issue so wide that it couldn’t be cured by another signing. At one point they had more loan players than they were allowed to pick in a matchday squad. Rangers replaced the perfectly functional Paddy Kenny with the somewhat erratic Rob Green on nearly three times the wage, and then not six weeks later replaced him with a partly-arsed Julio Cesar on nearly three times the wage again. Javier Chevanton, 17 full Uruguay caps, signed to sit on the bench in the Championship, alongside Oguchi Onyewu, who’d been capped the thick end of a hundred times by America. Mad summer trolley dash not working out? No dramas, here comes Chris Samba in January. And Loic Remy. And Andros Townsend. And Jermaine Jenas. Wage bill kicking around the £80m mark and still completely stumped by one shoulder injury to Charlie Austin? Fear not, here comes Mobido Maiga. And Yossi Benayoun. And Kevin Doyle. And Will Keane. And Ravel Morrison.
The worse they got, the more they did this, the more they did this, the worse they got. But, like any addict, the patient hungered for more of what was killing them. Board members, managers and fans alike lusting after the next bright, shiny new toy. ANNOUNCE RAVEL they cried, without ever acknowledging that Ravel would be replacing something they thought was the answer to all their problems not six months prior, and would in turn almost certainly be replaced by the next great white hope six months hence. To satisfy this bloodlust came all manner of hype, like the crowd-pleasing lie that £3m had been invested in Ale Faurlin that aroused suspicion at the FA and later almost cost us a hard-fought promotion, or that time a League One hot streak of almost three months in length got Conor Washington a £2.5m Championship move and the media team followed him around the training ground on his first day to such a degree I started to worry we might follow him into the cubicle with a paper tucked under the arm. With hype came expectation, with expectation came toxicity, and with toxicity came Radek Cerny being heckled 15 minutes into his debut on the opening day of a season – his predecessor’s name sung from the Loft End as Barnsley went into a surprise 1-0 lead on day one. The abuse of Chris Ramsey, in a game we won 3-0, at one point so bad the manager of a bastard club like MK Dons walked down the touchline and touched his shoulder in solidarity – something to be truly ashamed of.
In more recent times the expectation management has been more adept. Some have taken this as lack of ambition, that we’re being tuned to accept and be grateful for bottom half of the Championship finishes, but with less hype has come less expectation, with less expectation has come less toxicity, and with less toxicity has come a healthier environment to develop players. Relatively unheralded signings like Rob Dickie have thrived, academy players have been allowed to step up and find their way over time, the crowd so pleasantly surprised by Grant Hall after an almost afterthought free transfer from Spurs that he ended up with the Player of the Year trophy. It could be argued in hindsight that a Championship team with Ebere Eze, Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill and Bright Osayi-Samuel to pick from in attack should have done rather better in 2019/20 than it actually did, the McClaren season that preceded it had unravelled to such an extent and required such an extensive summer rebuild we were just grateful for anything we got, and again while you could argue that it’s sad the club had declined to that point we are now hopefully seeing the value in the time and patience that spell afforded Mark Warburton and this group of players.
What they must deal with now, particularly after this signing, is the spectre of expectation looming over Loftus Road once more.
The difference the four loan players made to QPR last season was there for all to see. Rangers went from winning four times in the first half of the campaign to 15 in the second. Only the top two, Norwich and Watford, won more after the turn of the year than QPR who climbed from nineteenth to ninth in the process. The general consensus was that Sam Field and Jordy De Wijs would be realistic permanent additions, but Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen would be out of price range. To secure all four is to mean serious business. There is understandable adoration for Charlie Austin, but Stefan Johansen is the pick of the bunch. QPR won 13 and lost only six of his 21 starts in 2020/21, he was this site’s man of the match in four of those. While we have, for years, tried to focus on the positives and extol the virtues of deeper midfielders like Massimo Luongo, Josh Scowen and Tom Carroll, Johansen showed quickly and definitively how that position is supposed to be played. He scored four times – should really have made it five at Birmingham and six at Reading - and added an assist from a defensive midfield position in which Carroll had registered one assist and no goals, and Luongo took the best part of 100 games to score from at all. Like Shaun Derry before him, Johansen had rarely stood out in games until he pulled on our shirt and you realise exactly what he, and it, is all about.
With his arrival comes the demon hope. QPR have undoubtedly had an excellent summer, in a division now stuffed full of clubs in varying degrees of crisis. Some of this is good: a fan base that has suffered years of pain at the hands of its football club and has now been locked in its homes for the best part of 18 months deserves and needs things to be excited and happy about; a club that has spent six years cleaning house has to show this isn’t just us forever now, and needs to shift ticket sales more urgently than ever before as more than a year without crowds further exacerbates the problem of how much it costs to run QPR week to week versus how much money the club brings in the other way. A full, excited, noisy, pumping Loftus Road is everything everybody needs in their lives right now. The trick is to make sure the balance doesn’t tip out of excitement, happiness and optimism into hype, expectation and impatience once more. We’ve seen before what happens here when it does.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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