Johnny Russell on why he’s glad to get away from Scotland
DERBY newboy Johnny Russell might have been playing against AC Milan and Juventus this season – but after spending last season watching Celtic canter to another title, he’s just happy to be out of the SPL.
Russell, 23, notched 20 goals for Dundee United last season, despite missing three months with a broken leg.
And the Glaswegian’s heroics didn’t go unnoticed with Serie A side Catania making a bid for his services in January.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon also made tentative enquiries but with no Rangers to provide even a glimmer of competition, Russell decided to try his luck south of the border.
“The games against the Old Firm are the ones every player looks forward to,” said Russell. “The atmosphere, the big crowds in big stadiums.
“But in terms of competition, it’s not so great now. Every now and then, the odd team will beat Celtic. But over the course of a season, I don’t see anyone even pushing them for the title.
“I’m quite an ambitious guy and I don’t want to play in any division just to finish second, or win easily. I wanted to try something new and play in a league that is genuinely competitive.”
“In that sense, there’s none better than the Championship. It’s a great league, very demanding physically. And it’s very competitive, as you saw by how close it was last year.”
Russell – who joined the Rams for £750,000 – is loving life at Derby, especially after netting a penalty on his debut in the 1-1 draw with Blackburn.
“I’ve taken a few penalties in my time and that’s the most nervous I’ve been,” he adds. “My debut, in front of a big crowd to put us ahead. My heart was racing as I stepped up but thankfully it went in.
“It’s no fun to join a new club and not score. The longer it goes on, it gets into your head and you put pressure on yourself.
“It was brilliant to get off the mark nice and early. As a striker you’ll take anything – a deflection, a rebound, or a penalty as I got.”
However, he admits he would have been tempted by an Italian adventure had Catania stumped up enough cash.
“There were a few bids from Catania around January time, and from what I gather they were seriously interested,” he says.
“It came out of the blue and I thought somebody was winding me up at first. It was just so bizarre that a club in Serie A would be looking for players in Dundee.
“It was a weird one but it was good to hear. I’d definitely have considered it because not many players get the chance to play in a league like that.
“But they never came up with the money that United wanted.”
Now that he’s linked up with Nigel Clough at Pride Park, Russell is more than happy that the Italian outfit didn’t tempt him away.
“I just got a feeling as soon as I saw the place,” he says. “Looking at the training ground and seeing the stadium, speaking to the gaffer and people at the club – it felt like the right move and I’m hoping to stay here for a while.”
OFF THE MARK: Johnny Russell celebrates after scoring a penalty for Derby Inset: Russell scores for Dundee United against Celtic