Dulee Johnson: “Liberia has to make it to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations”

Reading time 8 min.

At only 25, Dulee Johnson is one of the rising stars of Liberian football. After 10 years in the Allsvenskan, the midfielder is ambitious: retaining the Swedish title, reaching the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations with his national side, taking on a new challenge… Johnson opened his heart to Afrik-news.com. Interview.

Afrik-news.com: Dulee, first off, did you watch the Africa Cup of Nations?

Dulee Johnson: Of course! It was a pretty good tournament. It had a terrible start with what happened to Togo. It’s an awful thing, really. That’s not part of football. It really was terrible. But when the focus got back to the pitch, it was a good tournament that saw, in the end, Egypt win its third title in a row.

Speaking of which… How do you explain Egypt’s domination of the African football?

Well, they’re a very good team. Very very good. All the players have been together for years, they all play in the same league, they know each other very well. At the moment, they have the best team on the continent.

Yet, they failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Yes, that’s true. And, to be honest, I’m not sure how to explain it. The World Cup is a different competition though. It takes a team effort to make it there. Egypt may be the number one team in Africa, the World Cup has always been a step too high for them. It’s difficult to explain but all the teams they face want to take down the Kings of Africa, they’re highly motivated.

_ How do you explain the failure of the other big nations in the Africa Cup of Nations?

To be honest, I expected teams such as Cameroon, Ivory Coast or Nigeria to do much better. With Eto’o, Drogba and the likes, they have big names who play in the biggest teams in Europe. But they also had a few key injuries. Look at Nigeria, Obafemi Martins was injured throughout most of the tournament… But, hey, it’s football! Anything can happen. The others teams were more hungry, they wanted to win more… You know, the Africa Cup of Nations is very important for us, African players.

What about the World Cup? Do you reckon an African team can go all the way?

Oh yes! I’m positive on an African team causing quite a few upsets in South Africa! In fact, I believe Ghana and Nigeria, as well as Ivory Coast, can surprise a few teams. They have top players, who play in top teams… And they’ve learned from their mistakes. They know what to do and how to do it. Ivory Coast definitely has a chance. So does Ghana with their gifted young players, if they get their injured back…

Who’s your favourite for the World Cup then?

Brazil! Definitely Brazil. They have good players all over the place. Even on the bench! It’s impressive: anywhere you look, you have big stars who play for the best teams. They have the best players available and then some…

So, how does a kid from Monrovia end up in Sweden?

Well, it’s quite easy really. George Weah advised me to head to Europe to play. I had the chance to play in a youth tournament, the Gothia Cup, in 1998. There I got spotted by a few Swedish clubs. And I joined BK Häcken. It was a big move for me. You know, it’s the dream of every African player to play in Europe. OK, Sweden isn’t France or Spain or Italy… But you have to start somewhere!

You’ve now been in Sweden for 10 years now. How do you like it?

I love it. It’s a good country. I’m happy there: my wife’s Swedish. So are my kids. And the country’s nice… On top of that, Sweden’s got one of the best social security in the world so to bring up a family here is ideal.

And footballwise?

As I said, it’s nothing compared to France, England or Spain but it’s still pretty high. There are many international players and we participate regularly in the European Cups.

What are your objectives for the new season which starts in about a month?

My ambition is pretty simple: to win every game! We did the double last year by winning both the Cup and the League. It was a fantastic achievement. We need to retain that title. It’s a big challenge!

So, you seem happy in Sweden but you left for a year to go to Israel. How was it?

After so long in Sweden, I felt like I needed to breath some fresh air. So I joined Maccabi Tel Aviv on loan. It was a great experience. I need to go see how the football was outside Sweden. Footballwise, it was a great opportunity but the football here in Sweden is better suited for me. Israel is a nice country and the football there is pretty good but I prefer Sweden. It wasn’t what I expected even if I had a good time. We won the Toto Cup and had a good run in the national Cup… Israel was good. Now I know what it takes to leave Sweden.

As a matter of facts, you had contacts with Birmingham but you still rejoined AIK. What happened there?

AIK wasn’t ready to let me go. I really wanted to go to Birmingham. The Premier League is one of my favourite leagues. Everyone is watching it, it’s where everything is happening. And that’s where Arsenal plays! I love their football, it’s very technical… It’s the kind of football I play and like. But, yeah, Birmingham… I was a key player in AIK and they wouldn’t let me go like that. It was a loan and they wanted a transfert to lose an important player. Too bad. I’ll have better luck next time…

Next time? Do you mean you are still ready to leave AIK?

No. I mean that I want to play at the highest level possible. I would really want to play in one of the European top leagues. But I’m focused on AIK. I can’t think about two clubs at the same time. My team is AIK and I’m going to fight to defend our championship. I’m going to give everything and if I play well, maybe, I’ll get offer a move to a big club. We’ll see what happens…

Who is AIK’s biggest rival this season?

Everyone! We won everything last year: we have become THE team to beat. The kick off is on March, 14th, against Mjällby AIF. I can’t wait to start! We need to qualify for the Champions’ League. We have the team to take on the challenge, especially with our latest recruit. Sebastian Eguren, a midfielder from Uruguay who used to play for Villarreal. He just started training with us and he’s really gifted!

A few years ago, you had trouble with the Swedish law (assault, drunk driving…). Can you tell us about it?

What’s in the past is in the past. It was 5 years ago, I was young. I’m not the same person anymore. Now I have a family, I have a wife and kids. 2004 is history. It’s all over. I want to move forward.

Let’s move on to Liberia. Since George Weah hung up his clouts, the national squad has disappeared from the football scene. In 2002, you were close to making it to the World Cup though…

Yeah and it’s really sad. We’re the only African country with a World Player of the Year: we NEED to be at the African Cup of Nations, at the very least. The government has to work on that, we need to improve the infrastructures and everything. It’s really sad when you notice smaller countries, such as Bénin take part in the ACN and we don’t… Keep in mind, our country is just out of years of civil war. But now’s the time to improve. We need to put apart our difference to move on and help our football.

George Weah is a huge figure in football in Liberia.

Yeah, he’s the best player the country has ever seen. George Weah helped a lot of young players, including me. He holds a lot of power in Africa. He’s very charismatic. George is my idol and he gives me advice now and then.

Your father, Josiah, was a pro too. And he was the head coach of Liberia for a while. Does he help you?

Yes, of course. When I’m in a tough spot, I phone him. He’s always good for hints and advice. For example, last year, we had this big game against Göteborg that was going to decide the title. We only needed a draw to win it. The pressure was huge, it was one of the biggest games I played in Sweden. Well, he told me to go there like I needed a win. If I went in to draw, I’d lose, if I went in to win, I’d win. I did and guess what? We won the game!

One last word on Liberia. You face a tough group in the Africa Cup of Nations 2012 with Mali, Cape Verde and Zimbabwe.

Actually, I think it’s a good group. We’ve always been unlucky with the big teams. In 2007, we lost 3-1 in Cameroon when we should have won that game. But this time, it’s not going to happen. We have a solid team with players who play in Europe. In Denmark, Turkey, Sweden, England, Greece… And we have talented youngsters. I’m sure we can aim for first or second place even if Mali is a strong team. But if we get together and play as a team, I’m confident we’ll make it!

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