“It’s an unusual position to be in,” says 18-year-old Bayern Munich prospect Ryan Johansson of his multi-national eligibility.
“The biggest thing in all of this is that it’s not really that relatable.”
To suggest that 2018 was a sombre year for Irish football would be putting it mildly. One win, four goals, Nations League relegation, a managerial sacking, and to top it all off the loss of promising midfielder Declan Rice to England.
The one shining light, however, at the end of a long and drawn out tunnel came in the form of youth.
Southampton’s Michael Obafemi declared for Ireland and won his first international cap against Denmark, the Irish U19s reached the elite phase of the European Championships, the U17s reached the quarter-finals of their Euros in England.
And then there was Ryan Johansson.
In January the news broke that the exciting young Bayern star would be continuing his international journey with the Boys in Green despite being eligible to play for both Luxembourg and Sweden. It was unquestionably a timely boost.
The 18-year old had played at youth level for all three nations as he weighed up his international options, before ultimately settling on Ireland
Johansson qualifies to play for Ireland through his mother, who was born in Mullingar. So how did the midfielder decide that it was the Boys in Green with whom he should pursue an international career?
“It was about how close I was with all three countries,” Johansson told Pundit Arena.
“I have a lot of family in Sweden and obviously, I grew up in Luxembourg and Luxembourg still is my home, my parents still live there. So it was a tough decision in the end to choose Ireland but I focused on two things.”
“Football wise how Ireland were doing, talking about the youth and how the first team are progressing with the manager change and then secondly it was about how I felt personally, my heart was drawn to Ireland and that’s more of a country where I feel like I am from, I’m Irish.
“I just felt that that really influenced my decision. It was unusual though to have the choice of three different countries.”
Johansson had been called into the Irish U19s team in September by Tom Mohan, where he featured twice against Wales. Despite joining up with the country of his birth Luxembourg and their U21s, a month later, the 18-year old outlined that his experience with Mohan’s side went a long way towards his decision.
“My experience with the Irish U19s was very good and it’s another thing that influenced my decision.
“I had such a good experience with them. Tom Mohan the 19s coach, he communicated with me and talked to me and I called him before I made my decision and I really liked how it was in the camp. I felt at home in that team.”
The young midfielder speaks with a calm but assured air of confidence. Why shouldn’t he? He is, after all, one of the brightest talents at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
During the summer, when he was still just 17, Johansson received acclaim for his pre-season performances for Bayern Munich’s first team.
Johansson started against Juventus and featured against both PSG and Manchester City during Bayern’s tour of America, something that he explains, was a “crazy experience”
“It was a great experience,” outlined Johansson.
“Still talking about it is amazing. It’s the best experience I’ve had in my life, and I think it’ll be a very good memory forever.
“I found out the day before that I would be travelling to the US so it was a huge shock just being around the first team and everything.
“I had trained with them for a lot of the pre-season. It was just a crazy experience, I didn’t even expect to play but the minutes I got were very good, starting against Juventus was pretty crazy, in front of 20 or 30 thousand people. I really enjoyed the experience, it was really fun.”
A club steeped in history and tradition, to make their first team, even in pre-season, is no mean feat. Especially for someone as young as Johansson.
The soon to be Irish international is, however, well used to the pressure that comes with donning the famous red of the five-time European champions, explaining that older players like Arjen Robben have been a huge help in his progression.
“I think you always do feel a pressure playing at such a big club but I feel it’s a positive pressure. Training and playing with guys that are at a high level there’s always pressure and competition between players like any good club.
“The coaches do put pressure on you but again it’s a positive pressure, it’s a good motivation and I feel that’s what you need. I like that though, being under pressure to be pushed.
“Also learning from the older guys, as you know there are a lot of experienced players in the Bayern first-team so I really learned a lot. For example Arjen Robben, he was a big help with the youth players he’s a very good mentor and he would tell me things in training that I am still using now and that I’ve taken on board.”
Johansson is, to his knowledge, the only Luxembourgish player to have ever played with Bayern. He was spotted by the German giants while training and playing with Leverkusen during his early teenage years.
Bayern kept tabs on him during his time with Metz’ U17s in France and eventually signed him as soon as he turned 16, such was his talent at the time.
Born in Luxembourg, playing in France and Germany, with a Swedish father and an Irish mother, Johansson is a player who has experienced a plethora of cultures during his young life.
Despite this, Johansson explains that his memories of visiting his mother’s native Mullingar during his childhood summers mean that Ireland, to him, is a second home.
“We’d go to Ireland for around 4 or 5 weeks during the summer,” explained Johansson.
“My Mam grew up in Mullingar so we had a house there like a summer house we could visit. It was like my second home, there were friends on the street that I would play football with. My Grandparents were there, my uncle still lives there so for me it’s quite a home-y place. My Mam is obviously very close to Ireland so she was quite pleased with my decision.”
Johansson’s choice of Ireland has brought joy and a needed sense of optimism to fans of the national team, but in his situation, there was always going to be two countries who missed out. In this instance, it was Sweden and Luxembourg.
The Bayern youngster outlined that he was delighted by the response from Irish fans to his choice and despite there being some fans who were not pleased, he generally received positive feedback, especially from those in Luxembourg.
“There was a lot of people happy with the decision and that was obviously very positive. I had little kids from Ireland messaging me on Instagram which was amazing. It was so nice for me.
“There were fans from the other countries who weren’t too pleased which I obviously 100% understand but it was very nice how the response was so great.
“Surprisingly though I also got a lot of positive comments from Luxembourgish fans, for example, because I know they’ve had experience with underage players playing for the youth teams and then going on to play for the country of their birth at senior level.
“I was, in some instances, pleasantly surprised and obviously as a player that takes its toll on you but it’s not the most important thing.”
Johansson will likely have his sights set on Stephen Kenny’s first U21s squad as he begins life as a committed member of the Irish setup.
The 18-year old’s desire and excitement to play for the Boys in Green is palpable and he outlines that he isn’t the only member of his family who cannot wait for him to sport the Irish jersey.
“I really just want to play I don’t want to wait! But no there is a lot of excitement from the Irish side of the family. They are very excited to see me in the green jersey.”