Franco who? Werder Bremen sporting director Thomas Eichin has moved quickly to fill the gap in attack left by the departure of Franco di Santo by signing US international Aron Jóhannsson from AZ Alkmaar for a reported €5 million.
The 24-year-old has not had a typical rise to the top in footballing terms and his career path that has led him to the Weser Stadion has gone via Alabama, Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Here’s the lowdown on Werder’s latest summer signing and attacking hope- Aron Jóhannsson.
From Alabama to the Volcano
He may have been born in Mobile, Alabama, but Iceland provided the setting for Jóhannsson’s childhood and formative years after his parents returned to their homeland following the end of their studies in the US with Aron aged just three.
His took his formative steps in youth football with Fjölnir (his local club in Reykjavik) where he spent four years, before a season with Breiðablik. The Jóhannsson family had kept their ties with the US, so Aron returned as a 17-year-old to spend the school year in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for the IMG Academy squad based in Bradenton, Florida.
His return to Iceland 12 months later saw him re-join Fjölnir, for whom he went on to make his league debut in 2008, before becoming a regular in the following campaign.
Rise to prominence
13 goals in 37 appearances saw him come to the attention of some Northern European scouts and it was Danish second division side AGF Aarhus who signed him in 2010 and he helped them achieve promotion to the Superliga.
Jóhannsson scored seven goals in his first season in the Danish top flight and doubled that tally in his second season. He also set a Danish record for the fastest hat-trick scored taking just three minutes and 50 seconds to bag three goals against AC Horsens.
The January transfer window of 2013 saw him take the next step on his footballing odyssey when he joined Dutch club AZ for €1.6 million. The Eredivisie was a clear step up in quality, but Jóhannsson coped and then shone.
Three goals in five appearances in the second half of the 2012/13 season was followed by a highly impressive 26 goals in 51 games in all competitions in his first full season with the ‘Cheese Farmers’ from Alkmaar.
Which flag to choose?
Jóhannsson’s rise and apparent talent while starring at AGF saw Iceland call him up into their U-21 squad, for whom he made ten appearances, scoring once. He then was rewarded with a call-up to the full international squad in October 2012 for the World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland and Albania. Due to a groin injury however, he did not appear.
That was ideal for US national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann, who made secret of the fact that he had been keeping tabs on the youngster and set about convincing the player to switch his international allegiance to the USA.
The tough decision was made and with FIFA approval Jóhannsson made his debut for the US in October 2013 as a substitute in a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also played in the USA’s final World Cup qualifier against Panama and scored his first full international goal in the last minute to clinch a 3-2 win.
The young striker then made the World Cup squad in Brazil and played most of the first game against Ghana after replacing the injured Jozy Altidore. He also recently emerged with credit from the recent Gold Cup where the US finished fourth.
The next chapter
From Iceland to Denmark, was a step-up for the striker, as was his move from the Superliga to Holland’s Eredivisie. It certainly appears that he has not been phased by the jump up in quality he has faced thus far, and a move to Werder represents yet another jump in the level required of him.
However, he shows great maturity for such a young head and Jürgen Klinsmann rates him highly saying: “He’s a different type of striker, different type of player…He takes people on, he’s very light on his feet, and he has speed. But he always knows where the goal is, even if he’s roaming around with his back to the goal.”
With Anthony Ujah the only real competition in the Werder forward ranks (if you omit Viktor Skripnik’s untested youth players), Johannsson should get the game time to prove himself in the Bundesliga with the Grün-Weißen.
The German top flight has a long history of successful American strikers making a name for themselves. Could Aron Jóhannsson be the next?