Views: 246

Jonatan Johansson will always cherish his successful playing career with the Light Blues and he is thrilled to be back at Rangers as an Academy coach.

The Finn first moved to Scotland in 1997 and was given his debut by legendary manager Walter Smith but he really made an impact in the following two seasons as part of Dick Advocaat’s Treble and Double winning sides of 1998/99 and 1999/2000.

Advocaat had a squad packed with talented forward players but JJ forced his way into the Dutchman’s side and scored a number of important goals – domestically and in European competition.

Crucial strikes against Bayer Leverkusen, Shelbourne and Beitar Jerusalem plus the opening goal in a 4-2 Old Firm triumph at Ibrox and winning the league at Celtic Park in 1999 are among his personal highlights so he knows exactly what is takes to make it in the Rangers first-team.

In a wide-ranging interview as he showed his support for The Rangers Youth Development Company – we’ve provided more than £11 million to the Academy since 2002 – JJ recalls his playing career and discusses his Academy role with the club.

He said: “I’ve been here just over a year now and when I came back I started with the under 16s.

“It was a chance meeting with then Academy Director Craig Mullholland at a game and he asked me to come in and do a few sessions.

“I really enjoyed it and I’ve been with the under 18s since the New Year.

“It’s been a really good experience for me and there is a good balance here of experienced coaches, energetic young coaches and ex-players.

“I think that’s a really important mixture. Everybody has their own strengths to give to the young players.

“I was always interested in coaching the ages between 16 and 20 when players are trying to get into the first-team.

“It’s that last step that’s so important.

“Everybody here is very talented, works hard and has got a chance.

“It’s about player development with the 18s – you need to be more demanding and teach them about winning.

“I try and look at it from a players’ perspective and look at what they need to do and what I can give them.

“It’s about teaching them and giving them small tips and support both mentally and on the pitch.

“It’s a massive step when you are 16 and turn professional.

“At a club like Rangers you need to win so that demand comes into it so I try to be as player-centric as I possibly can and try to help them go forward.

“As an ex-player that’s an advantage you have and I hope I can give something to the players.

“I know the demands and how hard it can be for a young player so it’s great to see players like Ross McCausland making it in the first team. It’s great for all the young kids to see that. 

“The pathway is there and they can see that reward. Everybody wants Academy products to play and Ross is a good example.

“16-20 is a really important age and a really difficult age so I am happy to be involved.

“There is such a good team spirit in the 18s group and Stevie Smith has created that. 

“The players are really hungry for success and everybody wants to win things with this club.

“Everyone is different and has their own personalities and they deal with things in different ways but the facilities are fantastic here and the working environment is so good.

“It’s a joy for me to come in and I’m sure it’s a joy for the players as well.

“If they ask about my career I try to answer but what I do know is the demands on professional footballers are really tough.

“So I want them to understand what is needed and what you have to do to succeed.

“They have to believe and keep confident, there is a pathway to the first-team.

“If you keep working hard every day good things can happen for you.

“It’s a fantastic career so you have to enjoy it every day.

“It’s fantastic for Ross McCausland right now, it’s a dream come true for the player but it’s also fantastic for the coaches who work with him every day.

“The younger players who look up to him can be inspired and see it’s possible. 

“Those successful stories are really important for everybody.

“Being a footballer is a fantastic career but it is never straight forward.

“Very few players waltz through so it’s about preparing them and giving them as much as we can at Rangers.

“I hope everyone here can have a successful playing career.

“We have a very good network and host families look after young players when they move here.

“There will be times you feel lonely when you move up here from other parts of the UK or abroad and it’s important we recognise that as coaches.

“If a player is having a hard time we are here to help them.

“The character side, mental side and resilience side is really important for a player now. So we have to educate them on and off the pitch.

“I was quite young when first I came over to Scotland with another Finnish player Antti Niemi so we helped each other.

“The demand levels at Rangers was something I wasn’t used to. Even in training every day.

“The standard of players was so high so I knew I had to up my game.

“You can’t take it easy, even in training, at Rangers and it’s the same now.

“You have to be 100% committed and focused.

“I have fantastic memories of my playing career here.

“It was a fantastic time in my life and I was a young man who grew up in Glasgow.

“Very fond memories. There were some hard times but they make you stronger and I look back fondly. Scotland has always been a good country to me and we decided to move back here.

“My son was born here it so it is very much a second home.

“He is a young footballer too and he’s at Ayr Utd now and really enjoying it. It’s great to go and watch him, not as a coach just a dad. 

“There were a lot of highlights, winning things was great and I took it a bit for granted because that’s what is supposed to happen at Rangers.

“The two seasons I had with Advocaat were really successful and I played with some great players.

“European games were my favourite and Advocaat gave me a lot of responsibility in them.

“The style of European games suited me and I scored a lot of goals.

“Winning league titles and cups was fantastic. I remember the team and my team mates and it’s always good to bump into them at legends games.

“I remember those days fondly. 

“When I first started here I was playing in the Reserves and Barry Ferguson was playing and other first-team fringe players like Barry Nicholson and Scot Wilson. 

“It was such a good team and the quality was so high so it was fantastic to win trophies with Rangers. 

“The club has been so successful and you can see that in the new museum. It’s fantastic.

“It’s so good for the fans to see and the feedback I hear from people is fantastic.

“Traditions are so important in football. It can’t be a burden it is something to be cherished and I think it’s great for players and fans to go there and see what this club is about. It is fantastic for the club.

“Rangers is a historic football club. Modern stadiums are nice but when you walk into Ibrox and see the Marble Staircase, Hall of Fame Board and places like the Blue Room it soon takes your breath away.

“It was the same for me the first I walked in as a player.

“All the lounges have been upgraded and now we have the museum. It’s really important to develop whilst remembering the traditions.

“Money is now so important in football. You don’t want to speak about that too much with younger players as for them it’s just about playing, but we know how important RYDC money is and we thank all the fans who sign up to play their products.

“We cherish it and don’t take it for granted and try to put it to the best use – not just for the players but the support network, training facilities and pitches. 

“Everything gets upgraded and the RYDC money comes in and we are very grateful. 

“Hopefully we can raise more than £11 million in the next 20 years.”

To sign up for Rangers Lotto CLICK HERE – all profit goes to the Rangers Academy.