John ‘The Wall’ Johnson Discusses Squad, ISL And Rivalries Ahead Of Debut ISL Campaign
He knows every short cut on his way home, fails but doesn’t shy from giving Kannada an attempt and is only one of the two remaining players from the squad that played Bengaluru FC’s first ever game four seasons ago. So when John Johnson’s name wasn’t part of the squad list that played in the knock-out stages of the AFC Cup, Bengaluru FC just didn’t feel the same.
But the Englishman, who was on leave owing to personal reasons, is back in the city and has let the dressing room know what it’s been missing. More importantly, ‘the Wall’ as he has come to be known as, is raring to take on the Blues debut season in the ISL with renewed vigour. “It feels good. I’m excited to be back working with the team. It’s almost a new squad and we’ve added some quality players to it. I’m looking forward to the season and can’t wait to get started and playing again. It’s been a long time for me.”
Johnson, who has won two League and Federation Cup titles with the Blues feels that this switch to the ISL will be an exciting one. “It’s our first time in the ISL and there’s a big buzz. We’re all very excited to take part in the ISL. I’m sure the boys will give everything they can, and we’ll try to be up there. We’re all just looking forward to it and these are exciting times for BFC,” he adds.
Discussing the schedule of the competition, Johnson believes the extended format provides players and teams enough time to recover and prepare for games. “It’s a good schedule and the change has made the League longer. The games will be week to week with the odd mid-week game. Obviously, we’ll have the AFC Cup as well so that’ll come into play in 2018. I think the Indian Super League is a little bit better in terms of how they do things, and it’s exciting for us. The team’s preparing really well, and the boys had a fantastic run in the AFC Cup and we’ve been working hard. We have played together a lot longer than the other teams and the extra two months, I reckon, will help us. So, if we hit the ground running, we can start really well.”
One thing that surprises Johnson a bit is the new playoff format, but it’s something he thinks will fuel the excitement. “It’s different than before, I think they have the same format in Australia where the top-4 teams go into the playoffs. Our aim is to win the league, and we got to be up there; finish in the top-four, but it’ll be nice to win it. The big games will start after if you make the top-4, which I’m confident this team is very capable of. So yeah, there will be an extra excitement at the end of the season. I’m sure we’ll look forward to try and be in that last-four definitely.”
Teams in the ISL are now allowed to sign a maximum of eight foreigners and with some big names having been part of ISL in the past, Johnson sounds excited. “I think there will be a lot more quality in this league, with better foreigners for sure along with the best Indian players. There will be a little more quality in the league overall, I suspect, with teams improved from the I-League. The foreign players have increased in the team to eight but with only five on the field, it will be the Coach’s choice. If you’re playing well and the team is winning, then you will be in the team. The games will come thick and fast especially when the AFC Cup starts, and then we’ll be able to utilize the entire squad along with all with foreigners. Competition for places is always good and is what you need in a team.”
Weighing up rivalries, Johnson is sure the ISL will bring in new and exhilarating ones. “New teams, new rivalries! I’m sure there will some interesting games along the way, so I’m looking forward to it. The closest team normally end up as your rivals. Kerala’s right down the road and the game is on new-year’s eve, so it’ll be an exciting one, and you know, it will be nice to play against Vineeth, Sandesh and Rino, and give them a bit of stick as old friends. We’ll take games as they come, and we have to make sure that we start quickly, because in this league, the quicker you start, the better your chances of finishing in the top four.”
With just four weeks to go for the season opener against Mumbai City at the Fortress, Johnson wants the fans to get behind the team and make the newest journey in the club’s history a special one. “We are fresh and hungry to play. We’re all in this journey together. Another league, another challenge and I’m sure we’ll come out on the top again. We’re eagerly looking forward to that first game at the Fortress. Bring on the ISL!”