Ronny Johnsen. Norwegian footballer who played in central defence and as defensive midfielder has been perhaps a rather fringe figure in the history of United. I wasn’t aware of his presence at United until I started looking in-depth at the 1998-1999 squad.
The Early Years
Ronny Johnsen, a Norwegian spent his youth back at home. Starting his youth years in Eik-Tonsberg as striker. Pretty much like our Rio now. Starting to play as a striker, he was retrained by his coach at Eik-Tonsberg as a central-defender.
Playing as striker was all that Ronny wanted which prompted him to move to the main league: Tippeligaen by signing for Lyn and later Lillestrom. He played mainly as striker for Lyn but used more as a central defender at Lillestrom. After his stints in the top-tier of the Norwegian league, he moved to Besiktas.
Besiktas and United
He spent one season at Besiktas playing 22 games for them. Sir Alex Ferguson, approached Besiktas for Ronny as early as 1995 but the move didn’t materialise until after the 1995-1996 season. Following the transfer, the Norwegian spent a total of 6 years at our beloved United playing 99 matches in total.
At Manchester United
Playing for a total of 6 years for United, he had quite a successful career. Bought from Besiktas in 1996, Sir SAF wanted him to partner Stam in the defense. He played a lot of games in the centre back role as a successor for Steve Bruce and even filled up for the defensive midfielder role. Until he was released in 2002.
He played a lot of games for United for the first three years at United. In the first season at United, Ronny played 37 matches which is a great number considering the players we had in the defence during that time. The following season, he played a total of 28 matches with 4 goals to his name. But perhaps his best season was in the treble year: playing 3o matches in the defense with Denis Irwin and Jaap Stam, he scored 3 goals.
On pitch for the FA cup final and the UEFA Champions league final of 1998-1999 he was a consistent player for us. The best game of his career was against Juventus in the treble year when he played in the central midfield for us and got us through one hell of a semi-final game. Another great thing was that matchup gave United their first victory in Italy; winning 3-2 against the Zebras.
His path out of United was prolonged after the treble year. The season after the treble was pretty bad for him with long-term injury with less than 10 matches played for us in the league. Following that his playing time continued decreasing with injuries. The final season for him came in 2001-2002 when he was released from United. From United, Ronny joined Aston Villa. A season with the Villans and then a move to Newcastle came where he didn’t play as much. His final games came for Valerenga back in Norway.
In the early years, he played as winger, striker and midfielder for the Norwegian national team. Later on, he found consistency in playing in the central defense. He played a total of 62 matches for his homeland and throughout the 1998 World Cup.
Its of importance that Stam and Johnsen were perhaps the first template to the later partnership of the Ferdinand and Stam. A strong man with a ball-playing defender. Sir SAF’s first example of a strong technical idea for United’s defence. That has been consistently followed by United under Sir Alex Ferguson. To be frank, he is one of the most under-rated players in the United squad just because he was eclipsed by the strengths of Stam, Neville and Denis Irwin. He played an important role for United during the treble year and he is a United legend.
You can follow Ronny Johnsen in Twitter here: https://twitter.com/JRonnyJohnsen