Blast from the Past No.70: Jonatan Johansson

In the modern Premier League, it’s inconceivable that a first-choice striker could score five goals in a season and retain either his credibility or his starting place.

But in the distant era of the early 2000s, there was such a man.

Not only that, after scoring five goals in one campaign, he scored just three goals the following season, and four goals in each of the seasons after that. Yet he still continued to be picked by his club, and the fans still sang his name, and hardly anyone went onto the internet to say he was rubbish.

The man was Jonatan Johansson – Finnish international, overhead kick specialist, Justin Timberlake lookalike and Charlton Athletic legend.

The curly-haired Scandinavian was a much-loved member of Alan Curbishley’s Addicks team which spent seven consecutive seasons hovering around the top flight mid-table at the start of the millennium. Their success was founded on following an ethos, perhaps more diligently than any side in Premier League history, that the well-being of the team comes before that of the individual.

Therefore, a striker’s goal tally didn’t matter so much as the team’s league position. Which was just as well, because between the seasons 2001/02 and 2004/05, Johansson played 126 games and scored 16 times – equating to one goal to roughly every eight games.

But rather than bemoaning the lengthy period between these successful strikes, Addicks fans chose instead to cherish each one when it arrived.

“He was a very, very good and underrated player – an integral part of probably the best Charlton team ever,” said one fan on the Charlton Life forum.

“There have been very few players in my time as a Charlton fan where, as soon as they get the ball, you think, ‘He’s going to score!’ JJ was one,” commented another.

Of course, most of the time they were wrong – he didn’t score. But one reason for this startling generosity was that JJ had already scored enough goals to make Charlton fans fall madly in love with him.

When Curbishley signed him from Rangers for £3.5m in the summer of 2000, the newly promoted Addicks were aiming to avoid a second top-flight relegation in three years. Johansson scored seven times in his first eight games and 14 for the season – almost as many as he would get in the next four years.

“JJ was the launchpad for our survival after our bounce-back promotion. He’s a hugely significant signing because of that,” said one fan.

“It’s one of those rare times that we got a player at just the right time in his career – he peaked with us and at his best he was a very good Premier League striker,” added another.

Decisive goals in victories against London rivals Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal earned Johansson a hero status that never wore off, even if his goalscoring touch did.

Many attribute his reduced strike rate to a training ground injury midway through that debut season. JJ returned within two months, but the goals never again flowed in the same way.

He wasn’t helped by Curbishley’s sometimes pragmatic approach, which often resulted in the Finn playing on the wing in a 4-5-1 formation. As one fan put it,”he got properly Charltonised”.

Plus, even if Johansson’s goals weren’t frequent, they were often special. He is the only Charlton player in memory to have scored four separate scissor kicks for the Addicks – one against West Ham, one versus Coventry and two in one game against Exeter. They weren’t those really acrobatic scissor-kicks like Trevor Sinclair’s, but they were still good.

“His bicycle kicks were a work of art,” said one fan. Another admitted they were “a bit of a novelty for Charlton”.

Even so, after five seasons in south-east London – four of them not very prolific – it was clear JJ’s best days were behind him.

“By the time he was finishing up he looked like a mild gust of wind would blow him over,” said one supporter.

After being loaned out to Norwich, he returned to Scandinavia with Swedish side Malmo, then to Scotland with Hibernian and St Johnstone and finally back to Finland with TPS. In April 2017, he was appointed assistant coach at Ranger. But it’s at the Valley where they love him best.

“So underrated, so versatile – typical Curbs player. A hard worker, an intelligent footballer and good finisher,” summarised one fan.

“I cried when I found out he’d been let go,” admitted a fellow supporter. Which might sound silly, but when you consider the Addicks’ current predicament in the nether regions of League One, maybe the sense of tragedy was quite prescient.

“Johansson was slightly above average for a Premiership striker”, said another fan. In an era of Charlton success where being average was appreciated, that’s a bigger compliment than it sounds.

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