Treble Icons: Ronny Johnsen
One of only five players to start all three of the trophy-nabbing deciders at the climax of the Treble season, Ronny Johnsen was a vital figure at the heart of Alex Ferguson’s defence in 1998/99, and a valuable alternative in midfield.
LET'S DELVE DEEPER
One of our four Norwegians alongside Henning Berg, Erik Nevland and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Johnsen endured an injury-interrupted season by missing September through to December – but made 37 appearances during his third campaign.
The duo started the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, after some deliberation from Ferguson regarding who should play in central midfield, in light of the suspensions that prevented Roy Keane and Paul Scholes from involvement. Johnsen was an obvious candidate – as was Ryan Giggs – but after David Beckham impressed there against Newcastle in the FA Cup final (following an early injury to Keane) Johnsen was enlisted in his familiar role at the back alongside Stam.
Johnsen left Old Trafford in the summer of 2002 after 150 appearances and nine goals for the club. In six seasons, he was part of four Premier League successes, also winning an FA Cup, the Champions League and two Charity Shields.
“He came through, I was running past him. He put his leg out, I fell forwards and he fell backwards and he got the free-kick,”said a frustrated Johnsen afterwards.
“Time after time, we would find ourselves in a situation where we were behind and chasing the game,”noted Ronny,
“often with time running out, so we just pushed on. We had all this attacking talent, with so many amazing midfield and forward players, so we knew that we always had a goal in us and it was worth gambling to try to get it.“
“Such a risky approach to games was dangerous, but it usually paid off because we were so good at keeping the ball away from our opponents. Sometimes we lost it and they kicked it high and long, so at the back we had to be first to the ball, but for us it was usually not a problem. You had to be awake to situations. Sometimes the full-backs tucked in a little bit or one of the midfielders would hold a little bit, but if we were down, we just had to go for it. There was no other way.”
“He was easy to play with,”remembered the defender,
“and we formed a good partnership that season. I think it worked because we both knew our strengths. We were both quick one against one, we could keep a high line because we trusted each other very much – otherwise, if you don’t have faith in your partner, you start to cover up a little bit behind him and leave your man a few more yards, then they can play on him.
“It was all about trust. You could go really tough into the strikers and not be afraid about what was behind us. We clicked. It was automatic and you don’t even have to say too much to each other – even though we said everything we needed to say and were always communicating when we needed to.”
Ronny Johnsen on the treble reunionVideo
“I deployed Ronny Johnsen alongside Roy Keane in centre-midfield so that either one could choke the space in which the great Brazilian likes to operate,”wrote Ferguson in Managing My Life. ”Knowing that neither Ronaldo nor [Roberto] Baggio would press for the ball or hunt it down, I urged on our full-backs, Gary Neville and Denis Irwin, the importance of profiting from the possession they would have.
“He's got fantastic ability. If he remains fit, you will not get a better centre-half in the country.”