Mönchengladbach - One of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s mainstays in the second half of the season, has been a key figure in the five-time champions’ rapid rise to third place in the standings.
'We want to stay in third'
Speaking to bundesliga.com as part of the Interview of the Week series, the versatile USA international offered his views on the Foals’ upcoming clash with namesakes Dortmund, his team’s current form and the stiff competition for places in the Gladbach starting XI.
bundesliga.com: Fabian Johnson, have you managed to come to terms with the midweek to Bielefeld?
Fabian Johnson: We’re still disappointed actually as we were keen on reaching the next round. The fact that we lost on penalties is even more upsetting. But we should make sure we forget about the loss quickly. Bielefeld deserved to go through, and we need to concentrate on our upcoming task against Dortmund.
bundesliga.com: Was it really that important for Gladbach to progress? With a ten-point advantage over fifth place you’re likely to qualify for the Champions League anyway…
Johnson: The fact that winning the cup would’ve secured us a place in Europe was secondary. We were aiming to travel to Berlin [for the final] and win the competition.
bundesliga.com: Are you confident Mönchengladbach can book their ticket for next season’s Champions League then?
Johnson: We’ll be giving our all to stay in third place.
bundesliga.com: You have a set of tough fixtures ahead of you. Six of the remaining seven matches are against clubs from the top half of the table.
Johnson: We’re facing tough opposition, I agree. But if we manage to maintain our current form we have a good chance of reaching our goal. We’ll need to make sure we work hard though.
bundesliga.com: You’re up against Dortmund on Saturday. The media have branded the clash as the Battle of the Borussias. Is it a special game for the team as well?
Johnson: It’s an important game due to the fact that we desperately want to win. Dortmund are a superb side and they shouldn’t be where they currently are in the table. Unlike us they reached the last four in the cup. We want to make sure we keep the points here.
bundesliga.com: Are Dortmund as strong as they were in the past years?
Johnson: Most definitely, I believe Dortmund are still one of the top clubs. They had a difficult phase but I’ve had similar experiences while I was playing for Hoffenheim: We had a good side but were still fighting against relegation for quite a while. These things happen in football.
'Bayern win a huge experience'
bundesliga.com: The cup exit aside, Gladbach have been playing some great football lately. What are the reasons behind Borussia’s run?
Johnson: True, things are going well at the moment. I believe our current strength is largely down to the competition within the side and the fact that we can rotate the team. Everyone’s keen on clinching a starting berth. Also the whole team is really confident. When you’re on a run sometimes even the difficult things seem to work.
bundesliga.com: When did the team realise they have a real chance of reaching the Champions League? Was it after the win at Bayern?
Johnson: I don’t think there was one specific key moment. We’ve been playing well the whole season really. It’s true that overcoming Bayern was a huge experience though. Few teams have managed to beat them away from home, but we made sure we didn’t let up afterwards.
bundesliga.com: Things are also going well for you personally at the moment, you’ve become a real mainstay in the Gladbach starting XI in the second half of the season. It’s hard to believe head coach Lucien Favre supposedly expressed his anger with you during the winter break…
Johnson: Anger isn’t quite the right word, but we had a chat and sorted everything out. We had a slight misunderstanding, but this is all done and dusted now. Some newspapers made too much out of it.
'I'm feeling good on the wing now'
bundesliga.com: It was said back then that you’d prefer to play at right-back, which Favre wasn’t aware of. You’re still being deployed on the left wing though. What do you make of it?
Johnson: I’m feeling good playing on the wing. I’ve had a lot of games in this position and got used to it. The more you play in the position the more familiar you become with it. It’s become a much easier job for me.
bundesliga.com: What is your favourite position on the pitch though?
Johnson: I’m actually feeling really good playing on the wing by now.
bundesliga.com: Interestingly, competition for places on the wing is tougher than any other area of the pitch at Gladbach. How are Borussia’s wingers getting on with each other?
Johnson: We all have a great relationship within the team, both on and off the pitch. Of course everyone’s keen to play but it’s a fair contest. Everyone’s trying to prove themselves in the games and in training. I believe this is the reason why we’re performing at such a high level. It also helps being able to rest and rotate players at times.
bundesliga.com: Do you find it difficult to be at 100 per cent after sitting out the previous match?
Johnson: Generally not. Everyone wants to play and everyone knows they’re facing stiff competition for places. This particular pressure makes everyone give their all at all times.
'Klinsmann and I talk a lot'
bundesliga.com: There’s reason to believe your father, a former basketball player for Bayern München, played a key part in your versatility on the pitch. Apparently he told you to play in whatever position your coaches chose to play you.
Johnson: Yes, I suppose you’re right. It’s always been his opinion that I should just follow whatever the coach asks me to do so it’s the coach’s fault rather than mine when things don’t work out (laughs). I think this approach served me rather well actually.
bundesliga.com: You enjoyed an impressive 2014 FIFA World Cup at right-back. With Germany still searching for a first-choice player in that position, do you ever wonder how you would fit into the world champions’ fold?
Johnson: No, not really. I made up my mind to represent the US when I was still at Hoffenheim. I’ve had some great experiences with the national team and featured in a lot of games. Nobody can tell how things would have worked out had I opted to play for Germany.
bundesliga.com: You were an Under-21 European Champion with Germany. What made you choose the USA?
Johnson: I relished the challenge. Jürgen Klinsmann phoned me to invite me for a training camp back then. The team, the coaching stuff - I liked them all very much. We’ve played in some great games since, I was at the World Cup. I wouldn’t have liked to have missed out on those things.
bundesliga.com: Does the international side have the potential to go any further?
Johnson: Most definitely. We’ve performed well against some of the top sides in the world. Those experiences, especially competing with the best players, help you improve.
bundesliga.com: Are you getting feedback from Jürgen Klinsmann on a regular basis?
Johnson: Yeah, sure. We talk a lot when we’re together with the national team, also he calls me when we don’t get to meet for a longer period. Just like [technical advisor] Berti Vogts, he backed me when I decided to join Gladbach. He too was disappointed when I got little playing time in the first half of the season. But we knew it wouldn’t be an easy move. If things continue the way they are then we’re both happy.
Fabian Johnson was talking to Felix Seaman-Höschele