From the streets to pro baller in Netherlands via Chelsea: the story of Darius Johnson

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Handout/Frank Photographer Brussels
The skilful teenager has taken an unusual path to get out of the football cages of London and into a professional club

Chelsea’s transfer ban may have scuppered Darius Johnson’s prospects of a contract at Stamford Bridge, but the teenager is now aiming to grasp his chance in Netherlands after previously being on the brink of giving up on football.

Johnson has recently signed a three-year contract with Eerste Divisie side Volendam after taking a vastly different route into the professional game compared to his peers.

The 19-year-old had been with non-league side Kensington & Ealing Borough FC, but he began to doubt he could make it as a professional footballer until Rising Ballers FC gave his talents exposure on social media.

His skills and ability earned him a trial with Chelsea and the Europa League winners are continuing to track his development after being unable to sign Johnson.

Instead, Johnson headed to Netherlands for a one-week trial and impressed sufficiently to earn a deal with Volendam, where he will be tutored by former Ajax academy director Wim Jonk.

Having chosen to turn his street footballer skills into ones more befitting of a professional, Johnson explains that player development is at the heart of his bold decision to trade west London for a small coastal town in North Holland.

"I came for a trial with Chelsea, but they got the transfer ban and then they wanted to send me to another club in England," Johnson told Goal. "I then ended up coming over to FC Volendam for a trial. I did very well that week and they came straight back to me and offered me a three-year professional deal.

"When I found out, I was like wow. Am I really going to go to Holland? Change where I am living. It is a crazy feeling and it still doesn’t feel real. It is 100% a very big career step for me and it could lead to big things. It could lead to greater success in the Netherlands or back in England.

"I will take every day seriously and be as open-minded as possible. I think coming here will mature me. I will learn how to live and cook all on my own. I know this country, though. It is a great place for development.

"As a footballer, I think it is really going to help, and I will have great coaches here. For example, Wim Jonk, he was at Ajax Under-23s. He was their academy head coach. I really think he is going to help develop me and to make me a better player.

"The main focus for me, because I haven’t been in the academy system, was player development."

Johnson is part of a new breed of footballer who has been able to use social media to warrant selection from a competitive pool of English talent for the chance to earn a professional deal.

His two-footed touch was shown on Sky Sports show Soccer AM, which catapulted him from an unknown to a viral sensation.

Johnson will now move into a different environment and he hopes to keep the skills he learned from playing in cages as he looks to add what professional coaches can give to his game.

Former Blues winger Eden Hazard and his heir apparent Callum Hudson-Odoi rank among the silky dribblers' role models as he makes his first steps in the game.

He continued: "It is not going to be easy because there is still a lot of the game that I have to learn, and that’s the tactical side. I feel like I have a natural talent, so once I have a better understanding of that side of the game, I think there is nothing that can stop me.

"I feel like if I was within the academy system that I wouldn’t be the same player that I was today. I am a very direct and entertaining player. I like taking on defenders, causing a lot of problems and getting goals and assists.

"I want to play like Eden Hazard. I look up to Callum Hudson-Odoi, even though he is still so young. I like to play like him too. I just need to add to the other side of my game then I can do what I want. I have learned from five-a-side that I can do the skill side and I have the confidence to do the skill.

"When you get to this level, you have to choose wisely what you do. Make good decisions about what you do with the ball. You change your game, but your skill is still there when it is needed."

Darius Johnson

A big part of Johnson's choice to join Volendam was that his new coach, Jonk, helped to develop the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek at Ajax.

Johnson admits that, after being turned down by a host of London clubs at 13, he thought he might never make it. He is thankful that Rising Ballers FC gave him his belief back and he is determined to never lose it again.

"One hundred per cent I needed them," Johnson says of the academy that helped him earn trials at a host of clubs. "I did have a lot of doubt. I even stopped playing football for a while when I was 16. I thought it was over. But then, when I came back around, I got that kick up the backside to keep going.

"I had nothing to lose by going for it. Wow, Rising Ballers FC really got me so much exposure. They got me out there. They are my family; they have done a lot for me in snow, rain or late at night. In any conditions, we used to get out and work.

"I would polish a few things up and work on making me a better player every day. Now I am here. I need to get my head down and work. I understand that everything before was hard work, but the hard work starts now.

"I am ready for the challenges, the highs and lows. I need to stay level headed and keep my head down. I won’t get distracted."

It appears there is little danger of Johnson falling out of love with the game again as he awaits his debut in the Eerste Divisie next season.

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