Dream come true as 'DJ' Johnson, set to debut for BoyzThursday, November 12, 2020
BY IAN BURNETT
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Daniel “DJ” Johnson is one happy man at the moment.
He's happy because in a few days he would have fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams of playing senior international football for the land of his birth.
The Preston North End player will get that chance on Saturday when Jamaica's Reggae Boyz face hosts Saudi Arabia in the first of a two-game international series inside the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium at 7:30 pm (11:30 am Jamaica time).
The second game is slated for next Tuesday at the same venue and time.
“It obviously feels good knowing that I can represent my home country. It is kind of like a proud moment for me and my family and obviously something that I really wanted to do as part of my career, so now I've got the opportunity and I'm really happy the opportunity has come around and now I can fulfil one of my goals, so I'm really, really happy that the opportunity has come,” Johnson told the Jamaica Observer shortly after a light gymnasium session at the team's base here in Riyadh yesterday.
But though elated at the opportunity to finally don the famous black, green and gold colours of the land of wood and water, Johnson, the Championship Player of the Year Award winner at this year's North West Football Awards, was less than pleased with the lead-up preparation for the game on Saturday.
Like the rest of his teammates and support staff, he has been quarantined since arriving in this Middle Eastern country under their strict COVID-19 protocols.
“It has not been too great…I can't sugarcoat it or anything like that,” he said of the experience since arriving here.
“Obviously I've never been to prison, but you feel like you are in a prison and you can't really move, you can't really do anything.
“Today we've got access to the gym and a bit of access to the court just to get a feel of the football, so yeah it's not been too great but today [was] a more productive day.”
And with match time fast approaching and very little time to take to the pitch to try to get an understanding of his new teammates, Johnson, Preston North End's leading goalscorer with 12 strikes from midfield last season, harbours fears of pulling up injured.
“Yeah, a hundred per cent. Personally, my concern is getting injured and stuff like that, and obviously for the other players as well. I don't want to see anybody get injured either, so I think there is a massive concern.
The 28-year-old attacking midfielder, who also won the club's Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year awards last season, also rues the Reggae Boyz' inability to get in enough practice sessions to better prepare for the contests.
“The second thing is getting to gel and understand how each other plays and stuff like that. That's going to take a bit of time, so even if we had trained for the first three days or four days we would still have that situation that we really don't know about each other, so it's going to take a bit of time. So my biggest concern is getting injured knowing that I haven't done anything for three or four days and then I'm going to step out unto a field and play a match.
“I will have to look after myself and my advice to the other players is to look after themselves as well. We will try to stick together, because we are all in it together; look after each other because at the end of the day it is us going out there and putting ourselves at risk.”
Standing at 1.74m and weighing 67kg, the left-footer, who has been playing professionally in the UK for over 11 years, has a market value of xx million euros, and has notched two goals from seven matches in all competitions in the Championship this far this season.
He previously played for Aston Villa, and was loaned out a few times with spells at Yeovil Town, Chesterfield and Oldham Athletic.
The man who sports a dreadlocked hair style says the desire to represent Jamaica was from both the federation's side and his own dream.
“Kind of both,” he admitted. “My representative is Darryl Powell [former Reggae Boy, who played at the 1998 World Cup] he's played for Jamaica and they [Head Coach Theodore Whitmore] came over to watch one of my games against Sheffield Wednesday at home. He spoke to me, spoke to Darryl and showed an interest and obviously I showed the same interest back, and we came to a plan and an agreement that this is what we both wanted, so yeah it was from both ends.
“We sat down and we had about a 20-minute to half-an-hour conversation, but previously I had spoken to a few of the players who had represented Jamaica before, like Jermaine Beckford, Wes Morgan, and they advised me that it would be something that I would really enjoy if the opportunity came my way and they advised me to get on board with it.
“I took their advice on board and I'm here now.”
And although not the most ideal of team bonding and preparation for an international series of games, Johnson was pleased with the manner in which his new teammates have embraced him and welcomed him to the fold.
“It has been really good. I've not had a bad word to say; the vibe has been high. I've still not met a few of the players, but as time goes on I'm sure I'll meet them along the journey.
“The ones that I have met they have welcomed me with open arms, and it has been really good. We've had a few conversations, so I'm looking forward to it.”
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