Johansson: “The lion must be released from the cage now”
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Rostov-Don, whose start to the 2020/21 season was rocked by coach Ambros Martin’s decision to leave the team he led to the DELO EHF FINAL4 two seasons ago.
Martin, four-time DELO EHF Champions League winner with Györ, cited “a desire to be closer to his family” as Rostov were left reeling and in search of a new coach.
After winning the Russian Cup against rivals CSKA 29:26 on Friday, Rostov moved swiftly and snatched up Per Johansson, the former CSM Bucuresti and current Montenegro women’s national team coach.
Johansson, 49, had two stints as coach of CSM in 2017 and 2018, and served as Adrian Vasile’s assistant coach between February and March 2020.
The Swedish ace will be ready to lead the Russian side in their first game of the new season in the premium European competition, against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria on 12 September.
eurohandball.com: Was it a surprise that Rostov came calling?
Per Johansson: This is big for me. It is a lot to take in, but there are a lot of good feelings. We are talking about one of the best teams in the world, with a lot of talented players. Before CSM, I had never coached outside of Sweden, therefore, it is good for me that I have gone outside of my comfort zone and tried to lead big clubs. So, probably, I have done something good in my career and Rostov saw that and I signed up for this new adventure.
eurohandball.com: Was it difficult to accept Rostov’s offer?
Per Johansson: No, not at all. They called to see if I was interested. We spoke for the first time two or three weeks ago, and everything went smoothly from that point. It was a good impression on both sides of the coin after we met in a video call. They were very professional. We talked and agreed on the key points and now here I am, ready to go.
eurohandball.com: What made you accept the offer? What were the key points for you?
Per Johansson: During the past few years, I had the chance to coach some of the best players in the world, both at CSM Bucuresti and in the Montenegrin national team. The chance to build upon that experience with some of the finest players in the world at Rostov is a motivating thought. Despite my experience as a coach, you are learning something every day and I hope that the players will also learn something from me. It would be excellent if that happened.
eurohandball.com: In your talks with Rostov, they surely set some objectives from the start. Can you share those with us?
Per Johansson: Everything is crystal clear: we have to win everything. But, if you followed me, you know I am like a lion in a cage on the bench. Well, the lion must be released from the cage now! I am very happy I got this job and I am ready to do everything in my power to secure all the trophies we can this season. I relish this chance and will try to seize it and help the players get better.
eurohandball.com: Surely there is a lot of pressure, as Rostov have some difficult opponents in the DELO EHF Champions League this season. Can you thrive on this pressure?
Per Johansson: As I said, I will do everything in my power, on a daily basis, to make this happen. I know that it will be a difficult task, but I have a very good team on my hands. Pressure can be a good factor – it can also lead to good decisions when needed.
eurohandball.com: Ambros Martin is one of the most respected coaches in women’s handball right now. He won the EHF Champions League four times, but also won medals in tournaments with Romania and Russia. Will it be difficult to follow in his footsteps?
Per Johansson: It is a difficult task, but I am not afraid. I know many coaches could be stressed because Ambros led this team to the final two years ago and really helped put Rostov on the map in the past seasons. But I can talk from my experience, because I followed Dragan Adzic in the Montenegrin national team and the system was already set. It was a clear playbook and I only tweaked some things here and there.
Now, in Rostov, Ambros did a fantastic job, because he is, probably, the best coach in women’s handball now. It would be stupid to try and overhaul everything that he has done in the last years, because it would lead to more problems. I only need to prove myself and help the team fulfil its potential, give 100 per cent every time they are on the court. The good things must be kept and we need to get better and better in what is a very difficult season.
eurohandball.com: You worked with Adrian Vasile three different times at CSM and he is also your assistant coach for Montenegro. Now, you will face each other in the group phase of the top European competition. Will it be a tough pill to swallow for both of you?
Per Johansson: Adi has been my assistant twice at CSM and I was his assistant in the last stint this year. Going back three years ago, we both grew as coaches and as persons and we are now leading two of the best teams in Europe. We know each other very well, we are good friends and I am very happy for him that he landed a dream job in CSM.
That does not mean that I will not try to beat him. Of course, I will, as he will too. Of course, we will still cooperate, exchange ideas – we are still working together for Montenegro. But we will leave everything behind for 60 minutes when Rostov and CSM will face off.
eurohandball.com: Talking about Montenegro, will you still lead their women’s national team after signing for Rostov?
Per Johansson: We were one week away from playing the Olympic play-offs in March before everything ground to a halt, so it was very disappointing for us, personally, but also for the team, because we had very good chances to play in Tokyo. Also, the season stopped for CSM, so it was frustrating to see everything we worked for going up in flames.
My contract with Montenegro is due in December, but I talked with them and they gave me their blessing. Also, Rostov had nothing against me working as Montenegro’s national coach, so I hope I can still lead the team in the Olympic Games, if everything works out well. I have worked for this and it would be a dream came true.