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'It knocked him back with his club' - Ryan Johansson's Ireland U21 absence explained

The youngster was a recent withdrawal from the squad to face Italy.

Ryan Johansson (file pic).
Ryan Johansson (file pic).
Image: Janvier Gonzalez Vazquez/INPHO

JIM CRAWFORD has outlined the reasons behind Ryan Johansson’s recent withdrawal from the Ireland U21 squad ahead of important upcoming qualifiers against Italy and Sweden.

Luxembourg-born Johansson, who became eligible to represent Ireland after a protracted saga, was originally named in the squad before being replaced by Barnsley’s William Hondermarck.

The 20-year-old, who is highly rated in underage circles, is currently on loan at Eredivisie club Fortuna Sittard from Sevilla, who he joined from Bayern Munich last year.

Crawford said that both himself and Johansson had a chat and agreed that he was better off staying with his club for now, with the player not currently guaranteed game time in the Ireland setup.

“Basically, the gist of the conversation was we can’t guarantee Ryan a starting berth,” the Irish boss explained. “We have a lot of talented players in midfield. You look at Gavin Kilkenny, Dawson Devoy. Even higher up the pitch in that 10 berth, you’ve got Ross Tierney who’s playing fantastically well at Bohemians, we’ve got Conor Noss, a really talented player who’s playing in Germany.

“It’s not a case of somebody coming in saying: ‘Yeah, you’re going to play.’ You come in and prove yourself, and show something whether it’s the small-sided games or the 11 v 11s. You go: ‘You know what? He might have an opportunity here.’

“So he’s just broken into his club in Holland at the minute, albeit in the right full-back position. We both came to the conclusion it’s probably best that he stays there. They played a friendly a few days ago and he played in that, which is great. It’s another 90 minutes under his belt. He played against PSV the other day in a competitive fixture where he played for close to an hour, where he played wide right.

“So I do think they’re trying to find Ryan’s best position. I’ve said it to Ryan that: ‘I think you’re a midfielder.’ That’s where I see you coming in here. But with the 21s, it’s competitive. So we said: ‘Look, go play, nail down a position and when the March window comes, we’ll have a different conversation then.’”

Crawford emphasised that it was a two-sided conversation and explained that by going away with Ireland, Johansson could potentially harm his chances of a first-team spot at club level.

“He’s only just got in the team and he hasn’t played a load of competitive minutes there. The broader picture is it’s better for you to be playing first-team football because that will help you, that will help us.

“The issue with the window before was that he came with us and it knocked him back with his club. They said: ‘We played friendlies in the window, you weren’t around, so you’re going to have to stay on the bench for us.’ So he wasn’t getting anywhere near the first team.

“Now, he’s played right-back, he’s played wide right. I still think they’re probably trying to find a position for him. And maybe this is the best thing for him. He played a friendly the other day against a Belgian club and let’s see what happens. There’s no question that he wants to play for the Republic of Ireland.”

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Crawford continued: “I did say to him that ‘if we need you, you’re coming’. Because who knows? After tomorrow night’s game [against Italy], if we have a number of injuries, we’ll just have to take him in [for Sweden].

“Can he play for 90 minutes at the intensity that we want to play at? I don’t know. I doubt it. We can only go on facts. He’s played just a few games for Fortuna Sittard. And it’s not anything that I haven’t said to him, I said: ‘I wouldn’t be confident that you can give us 90 minutes with regards match intensity,’ and that’s pressing people, that’s recovery runs. Because we all know when players get tired, that’s when mistakes creep in, so it was a conversation we had and he agreed. I think it’s best for everybody that he remains at his club and plays games.”

Crawford also praised Johansson’s replacement in the squad, Hondermarck — a former Drogheda United youngster who has appeared five times in the Championship with Barnsley this season.

“William’s come in and done really well at Barnsley. He’s played a few first-team games and he’s somebody that’s been on the radar at Norwich, it didn’t go that well for him, then he went to Harrogate on loan.

“Then all of a sudden, he was at that point in his career: where was he going to go next? There was a lot of talk about him coming home, but he didn’t.

“He went to Barnsley, showed his resilience and has done exceptionally well. He’s broke into the first team and he trains with them every day of the week. He’s a player who is athletic, he’s aggressive, he has played at centre-back on the right side of a three with Barnsley. But I think his best position is central midfield.”

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Paul Fennessy

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