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AIK star Dulee Johnson maintains Birmingham ambition

But in the case of AIK Solna midfielder Dulee Johnson, the interest of Birmingham City - and his Swedish club's refusal to drop their asking price - only strengthened his resolve to prove Alex McLeish was right to pursue him so vigourously during the January market.

McLeish isn't alone in his admiration for the Liberia international, with Borussia Dortmund sports director Michael Zorc holding a long-term interest. Like Birmingham, Zorc found AIK stubborn negotiators when he came calling before Christmas.

"Such interest simply spurs me on to do better," Johnson told tribalfootball.com. "Receiving such praise from top club managers tells me that people are monitoring my every move on the field and I must be careful not to let my admirers down. I have gained a lot from the Swedish league (Allsvenskan) and with my current form I feel ready to play in any league in the world."

While flattered by the interest from Germany, Johnson admits his trials at Birmingham has sparked an ambition to play in England.

McLeish worked closely with the midfielder during his time at St Andrews, as Johnson recalled: "I had very good interaction with him. From our personal interaction and also in his public statements he made it clear that he likes my game. It was just unfortunate that I could not make the move to Birmingham, but life goes on.

"The most important thing I want to make clear is that McLeish is a world class trainer and receiving recognition from him is a positive."

While at some clubs trialists can be viewed with suspicion by established players, Johnson says the atmosphere at Birmingham was open, warm - in fact, "perfect".

"I received a warm welcome from the players. It was a good atmosphere and we mixed very well. Training was perfect.

"I am certain I can make an impact there. They're a big club like AIK and I see no reason why I cannot perform there if I am making it here. I have the quality and technical ability to play in the English league."

Battling against relegation, McLeish was keen to take Johnson on an initial loan with the view to signing him permanently - if they beat the drop. But AIK would only consider selling Johnson outright, which proved the deal breaker for the Premiership club.

"I knew what AIK were asking for me," revealed Johnson. "I respect AIK for their stand because they have invested a lot in me. If a club was going to come and buy me they should treat AIK with respect. There is a good relationship between the players, the directors and trainers here. We've all experienced good times, so I know the reasons why AIK turned Birmingham's offer down.

"As I've said, I am one of the best players in Sweden and now currently the best player at AIK, so if a team is coming to buy the best player, they should come with a very good financial offer."

Throughout this conversation with Johnson, his gratitude to AIK and the club's fans is always at the forefront. Now 23, Johnson acknowledges AIK rescued his Swedish career after a successful four years at BK Hacken came to a disappointing end.

"They were always interested in me," revealed Johnson. "When I first learned they were following me, I felt I was not ready because AIK is a bigger club and I thought I was not going to get a lot of playing time.

"So I continued to resist them and stayed with Hacken to develop. Almost every year, AIK would make a move to sign me. How could I turn them down? So when the opportunity came up, I decided to join them.

"I have developed a lot as a professional footballer. AIK is a big club and playing regularly has improved me. This has led to my consecutive Player of the Year crowns here."

Johnson credits much of his rapid development at AIK to coach Richard Norling.

"I have a very close relationship with him. He is like my father. He is a very good trainer. He is caring, even outside football. I would love to honour him and that has always been my prayers and if God permits I would do just that," admitted Johnson.

"He is a disciplinarian. Anytime I get things wrong he gives me a chance to explain myself and he also says what he thinks. He is a very good person."

That Johnson is so quick to acknowledge the positive influence of Norling is credit to the AIK coach - given the influence of genuine football royalty he enjoyed growing up in Liberia.

"I grew up around football. My father, Josiah Johnson played for the Liberian national team, The Lone Stars, and coached the team for close to ten years," says Johnson matter-of-factly, "so football has been part of the family upbringing.

"I later joined the George Weah-sponsored Junior Professionals at a tender age. Subsequently, I was sent to the prestigious Goldfields Football Academy in Ghana, where I was given lessons in the art of modern football. This is how I got to Sweden; the legendary George Weah, who was then with AC Milan was impressed with my performance and style, so he managed to get me a place in AC Milan's junior side in Italy.

"Thereafter, our national U-20 team took part in a tournament in Sweden called the Gothia Cup. I was named twice as the most valuable player in that tournament. My performance impressed BK Hacken and that was how I came to join them."

He adds, "I know I have been very lucky with my upbringing. I have immense gratitude to George Weah, the Liberia Football Association, my family and the many others I cannot mention who have made me what I am today."

With such a background, it's a lot to live up to, but given the recognition of McLeish and Zorc, Johnson has shown he's well capable of meeting expectations.

To keep up-to-date on Dulee Johnson's progress this season check out his all-action personal website: duleejohnson.com

About the author

Tribal Football Staff

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