Fabian Johnson is as important to Borussia Mönchengladbach as he is to the United States of America.
bundesliga.com has taken a closer look at the versatile midfielder who is proving to be a key figure for club and country by uncovering ten lesser-known facts about Johnson...
Born in the Bavarian capital Munich, Johnson is eligible to play for the United States of America thanks to his family's American heritage. Despite turning out 35 times for German youth teams, from U-17 through to U-21 level, he opted to represent the USMNT when former FC Bayern München coach Jürgen Klinsmann called. "I always felt quite American, I just grew up in Germany," he told The Guardian.
Home is where Bavaria is
Johnson's maternal grandmother was Bavarian and her daughter – Johnson's mother – married an American soldier stationed in Bavaria, before they set up family in Munich. "Almost my whole family is still in Munich. It's sort of home for me," Johnson said, who started his playing career with Sportfreunde München and then joined TSV 1860 Munich, also known as Die Löwen, or the Lions, at the age of nine.
Fabian's father, Charles Johnson, had a major influence on his son's life and career. English was spoken at home, helping Fabian grow up bilingual, while Charles had plenty of advice too, as a sportsman himself. "I don't know if he played professionally, but he played for Bayern München," Johnson said. The ball he used was of a different kind, though – he played basketball.
Speaking of balls, one of Johnson's first encounter with professional football came at a very young age, when he worked as a ballboy in Munich's Olympiastadion. He would never actually play there for 1860, though, breaking into Die Löwen's first team only when they had already moved to the Allianz Arena.
Memorable phone call
Johnson seemed set for a career as a Germany international until, in 2011, that call from Klinsmann arrived. "Good evening, I just wanted to ask you: can you imagine playing for the US?," Johnson reported were the first words Klinsmann said on that memorable phone call. He relayed the news to his parents, who were relaxed about him switching his allegiance, according to the man himself.
Johnson played for the U-17s through to U-21s for Germany between 2003 and 2009, featuring alongside future FIFA World Cup winners Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng in Germany's European U-21 Championship winning team in Sweden in 2009. Current Bundesliga stars Gonzalo Castro and Sebastian Boenisch also played in the emphatic 4-0 win over England in the final.
...but USMNT international
Going on to represent his father's homeland was not so simple, however. First, Johnson needed to obtain the right documents. He was pencilled in for his debut in September 2011, but it took a further two months before he was finally permitted to take his USMNT bow against France on 11 November 2011. It took until 2012 for Johnson to pick up a first official cap against Guatemala in a FIFA World Cup qualifier which meant there was no going back: he had become a fully-fledged USA international.
From Lions to Wolves
His path to becoming one, however, was full of junctions. Still a promising youngster, Johnson departed 1860 for VfL Wolfsburg in 2009, but struggled to settle into a side who were suffering something of a hangover after winning their maiden Bundesliga title. He managed just 16 appearances in two seasons before a move to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim materialised - and proved to be his biggest break.
Fabian's brother Stephan also plays football, albeit not to such a high level. He was nevertheless another positive influence on Fabian's career development and, together with the brothers of USMNT players Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi, took part in a futsal tournament in Brazil in 2014 which ran parallel to the FIFA World Cup.
Left to right
Johnson started out as a left full-back, but a level of versatility in his game was deemed necessary with a certain Philipp Lahm occupying that position for Germany while he was working his way through the Germany youth teams. At TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, he was given more of an advanced role to play (although he ended his time there as right-back – "My dad just always told me to work on my weaker foot, so I’m almost both-footed," Johnson revealed). At Gladbach he has moved even further up the pitch and seems to have found his niche on the left side of the attack.