BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
BJORN JOHNSEN insists he is relishing the stability of life at Hearts as he recovers from a campaign of bedlam in Bulgaria.
Johnsen, 25, was a reluctant player in the drama which saw his previous club, Litex Lovech, suspended from the Bulgarian top-flight when he received a red card in a televised fixture against Levski Sofia last December.
Referee Georgi Yordanov the dismissed Colombian defender Rafael Enrique Perez Almeida and awarded a penalty to Levski. Then all hell broke loose.
Litex sporting manager Stoycho Stoilov stormed onto the pitch on the orders of club president Trifon Popov and marched his team back down the tunnel, causing the match to be abandoned.
“I was in the dressing room and they all came in – I thought it was half-time!” he recalled. “Then everybody was saying: ‘he took us off the field’. The Bulgarians were really angry because that was a TV game – one of the biggest of the year.”
Litex’s players returned from the subsequent winter break to learn they had been expelled from the top-flight and would be forced to play out the season in the Second Division.
“If it was played in Scotland then it wouldn’t have been a red card,” the 25-year-old continued. “It was just a derby game so the blood was flowing. We had an altercation. I pushed a player, he pushed me – and that ended up being a red card.
“Even after I went off we were still playing really well and we were winning 1-0, then the referee gave another red card, so we were down two players and it was a penalty. I guess that’s when my boss [Stoilov] decided he’d had enough.
“They were trying to explain all this stuff about the game being finished. It was just weird for us [the players], we don’t really expect all this to happen. We’re just playing our game.
“In Bulgaria, you have a break in the winter time, so we went to play in Spain and Greece, thinking they [Bulgarian FA] were going to put us back in the league. But they put us into the Second Division.
“We still played in the Bulgarian Cup, where we had a semi-final. I was thinking: ‘Are we going to play in the league? Are we not?’”
Little wonder, then, that the decision to re-arrange Hearts’ Premiership fixture against Hamilton for tomorrow evening – a decision made due to the roadworks on the M74 which affected traffic yesterday – does not seem like much of an inconvenience to Johnsen.
“Compared to Bulgaria, changing match-days is not that bad! That’s fine to me,” he laughed.
Indeed, he is relishing the stability which has come from his move to Tynecastle this season. A man with duel U.S./Norwegian nationality, who has played in Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria, appears to have found a home in Scotland.
“The stability I’ve found in Scotland will help my consistency. That is what I really needed,” continued Johnsen. “My performances were really good when I was playing in Portugal.
“My standard and my goals-to-games ratio was really good. I tried to keep that up in Bulgaria but it was . . . ‘hectic’ there.”
And Johnsen is adamant that, with two goals in 10 appearances, the best is yet to come as he adjusts to the tempo and physicality of the game in Scotland.
“I have to get used to it because I have come from two places where it is really technical, not forceful,” added Johnsen. “People saw how Ludogorets played Arsenal in the Champions League – they play technically.
“You have to keep working in the gym, I have to push my body and make my body ready. Hearts are doing that for me.
“I’m trying to find my rhythm and, as a team, we need to keep that concentration in games that are important to us, like the Hamilton game this week.”