Johnsen: I turned Sir Alex down once!
Former United defender Ronny Johnsen believes that turning Sir Alex Ferguson down might have been the key to his successful career at Manchester United.
The legendary manager first approached the Norwegian defender-cum-midfielder in the middle of the 1995/96 season about sealing a possible switch from Turkish club Besiktas.
But Johnsen told UTD Podcast that he felt he could not abandon the Istanbul side part way through the season and, respectfully, turned Ferguson down.
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The Norway international believes that decision may have sealed the Reds manager's long-term respect for him, and convinced the Scottish boss to come back for his signature, later in 1996.
"My agent called and said: 'Is it okay for Sir Alex to call you?' Well, he was just Alex Ferguson at that time [not Sir Alex]," remembers the 50-year-old.
"I didn't know what to say, I was just: 'Yeah, yeah, yeah'. And I was just thinking what to say [to him].
"At that time, since I followed United, for me, he was the biggest [managerial name]. I didn't know what to say, but when he called me, we spoke and he said: 'Do you want to come over? We want to sign you.'
“We spoke a little bit more, and I felt like to go in the middle of the season was not the right thing. It felt like you leave somebody [your team] behind, if you know what I mean?
“So we agreed, more or less, that he was going to come [to me] after the season. You never know, to be honest, but he came after the season luckily, and I came [to United].”
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The Treble hero – who was one of only five players to start each of the three final matches in 1998/99 – was worried United might not return to sign him, but suspected Ferguson admired his loyalty to his Besiktas team-mates.
"I think he understood. And maybe he saw that as a respect thing," said Johnsen. "But you never know! I remember that time I was watching the games of United, and I think United had a French guy coming over [William Prunier]. Eric [Cantona] brought him in."
In the end, Prunier would make just two appearances after joining United on loan from Bordeaux in December 1995, and Johnsen was finally captured in the summer, becoming the most expensive Norwegian defender at £1.2million.
"I was quite experienced, so I didn't feel the pressure," Johnsen stressed. "And we did well with the Norwegian national team as well, so I didn't feel any pressure. It was fine."
Fellow Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a help to Ronny Johnsen after the pair joined in the same summer.
What did intimidate the man from Sandefjord, however, was the "scary" experience of entering a United dressing room full of international stars. However, joining at the same time as compatriot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and three other players, was a help.
"Karel [Poborsky], Jordi [Cruyff], Raimond [van der Gouw] came, and Ole. I'd played with Ole in the national team as well, so we knew each other from there.
“The first time I played Ole, I played for Lillestrom. At that time, it was probably one of the best teams in Norway – they had a really good team – and we were going to play Molde. At that time, Molde did really well as well. They had the three 'S's' up front – it was Solskjaer, [Arild] Stavrum and [Ole Bjorn] Sundgot. They were scoring a lot of goals, quite surprisingly, and I was like: 'Who is this? Come on – you're going to get it now!'
“We played them and, oh my God... Ole scored as well. They were so good playing together, these three guys, and the whole team as well. I don't remember the result, but I remember Ole was scoring, so I was surprised. We played in the national team after and you saw his abilities and qualities.”
Ronny Johnsen discusses his big move to Old Trafford from Besiktas.
WHAT THEY SAID
Alex Ferguson: "We thought it was time to stock up on a few players."
Norway coach Egil Olsen: "Ronny is among the best central defenders in Europe."
Martin Edwards: "With Steve Bruce gone, and injury worries over Gary Pallister, we see Johnsen as cover at the back."
You can listen to the full Johnsen episode of UTD Podcast now, on Deezer and all of your favourite podcast platforms.