Johnsen happy to raise his profile amid family fuss

The striker is focused on Hearts but would love to play for either Norway or America. 

Bjorn Johnsen is eligible to play for Norway or USA, but neither has shown any interest in calling him up, much to the disgust of his father and former coach, Hasse, who publicly vented his frustration earlier this month.

The self-styled motivational guru, author and football coach used social media to have a pop at his native Norway for failing to recognise the talent of his son, who yesterday stepped up to collect the Ladbrokes Premiership player-of-the-month award for November.

Bjorn, whose mother is American, was born in New York and has dual citizenship. While his father would prefer him to play for Norway, he tweeted that he “almost” wanted the US national side to select his son “so that we can confirm that the Norwegian … coaches are totally clueless”.

All of which has left Bjorn a little uncomfortable. With a history in youth coaching, as well as a Uefa B licence, his father knows the game inside out, but he has been a little carried away with the 25-year-old striker’s recent emergence into the Scottish spotlight.

“He knows about football, but his emotions get in the way,” admitted the Hearts player yesterday. “I gave him a talking-to afterwards. I said ‘everyone’s watching you’. He has no idea. He was here for the Motherwell game and he was here for the first Rangers game. It was emotional for me and for him. He really likes it here. He likes Edinburgh as well. He is just happy that I’m in a good situation.”

At least his father’s tweet was supportive. Bjorn is honest enough to admit that it will not have done his profile any harm. “Publicity is always a good thing,” says the 6ft 5in striker who would happily play for either of his two countries.

“I would love to hear from America or Norway. I’m half and half. I have two passports. But I’m not really worried about that. I am worried about me playing the way I know I can play and showing everybody who I am and if they think I am good enough to play for their country then I will take that as a compliment.”

Johnsen, who joined Hearts in the summer, waited patiently for his chance to become a regular in their starting line-up. Only when Robbie Neilson, their former manager, eventually gave up on the partnership of Tony Watt and Conor Sammon was the target man able to prove himself.

He has started the club’s last seven matches, solved their strikers’ collective failure to score and given Hearts another dimension with his touch, his link-up play and a vertical jump that almost allows him to catch a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat.

That repertoire of skills has interested several English clubs. Steve McClaren, the Derby County manager, watched his eye-catching contribution to the 2-0 defeat of Rangers at Tynecastle last month. At Ibrox on Saturday, where he was less impressive, a Swansea City scout assessed his performance.

Swansea are managed by Bob Bradley, the former USA coach, who later had two years in charge of Stabaek in Norway. Johnsen is just a few months into his three-year contract with Hearts, but there is no disguising his ambition to play in the English Premier League.

“Honestly, that’s what I want. You always want recognition and want big clubs to pick you up, but right now I am focused here and I can’t tell you what will happen. I am really pleased that clubs down south are looking at me as that is what my aspiration is, to play there or play in a big league. The Scottish league is on a high and people are watching us so that is a good thing for everyone. Not just for me, but all the other players.”

Hearts slipped five points behind second-placed Rangers with their 2-0 loss at Ibrox on Saturday, but Johnsen is optimistic that his team will bounce back, starting with their league match against Partick Thistle at Tynecastle on Saturday.

“The result at the weekend really hurt because we didn’t play to our full potential. Hopefully that will be out of the door and we can focus on getting a foothold before the [winter] break comes. This next month is really important.”

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