IT doesn’t get much better than leading a country into an international tournament.
History maker Michael Johnson will do just that with Guyana at the Gold Cup next week.
The former Derby, Birmingham and Notts County defender took over 12 months ago and has transformed the fortunes of the minnows 175th in the Fifa rankings.
Alongside assistant Paul Williams, Johnson has masterminded the country’s first ever appearance at a major tournament beating Belize 2-1 in March.
Guyana, tucked between Brazil, Venezuela and Surinam on South America’s North-East coast, is the size of England with a population of just 800,000.
Rams ambassador, Johnson, 45, will go head-to-head with USA boss Gregg Berhalter in their opening game of the tournament in Minnesota next Wednesday and insists his side are out to be party poopers.
My aim is to be a sporting director. That might sound odd as a head coach but I know what my strengths are.
He exclusively told SunSport: “We are planning on disrupting the party. Everyone thinks it will be an easy opener.
“We have never been to a major tournament before, so that in itself brings a bit of freedom.
“We have good players and I’m not saying we will beat the US but if any team thinks they can just turn up and not pay us the respect we deserve, we could upset the applecart.”
On a personal level the impact of his success has not gone unnoticed by great and the good of the game around the world.
Doors are opening.
Johnson said: “The response from the game, media and fans has been unbelievable.
“I’ve had messages from Sven Goran Eriksson and Gilberto Silva. I’ve been to Dortmund, PSG and Marseille to look at what their structure is like.
“I’m now being invited to Premier League and EFL clubs, managers from all levels want share and give advice, and even talk to me about a player who may qualify for Guyana.
“Doors have opened, there is recognition for what has been achieved and people are now saying: ‘This guy can hold a leadership position. This guy can do a good job.’
“My real aim is to be a sporting director, that might sound odd sitting here as a head coach, but I know what my strengths are.
“I never had any doubts I could achieve success as a manager or sporting director, I’ve always had an inner belief in myself and my ability.
“And whether the doors of a club or country open or not, I really don’t need them to open to validate me.
JOHNSON OVERLOOKED FOR 25 JOBS
“I can validate myself and I know I can do a good job, it was a case of whether within the realms of football I got the opportunity.”
With Johnson’s playing career and experience, why did he almost quit the game?
Being overlooked 25 times for coaching jobs was bad enough.
But the Uefa Pro-licence holder and Master of Sport Directorship could not get an interview from a single EFL club right down to the middle regions of non-league.
He added: “We can sit here dance around the issue but there is no getting away from the fact that there are not enough black managers, people of ethnicity in the game.
“There needs to be an end to talking, we need to stop these campaigns, we did one with the PFA (Enough) which is great, it gets it out there.
“But then what?
“And until those issues are addressed , we’ll be here talking for another 10 years.”
Johnson admits he had split loyalties on the final day of the League Two season.
It was either his beloved Notts County or Macclesfield, managed by Sol Campbell with Andy Cole, going down.
Johnson added: “I always wanted Sol to do well, you don’t want him to fail.
“Let’s remove colour, how can a Champions League and Premier League winner with all those England caps go into management with a guy that captained Arsenal, at the bottom tier of any league in Europe and people don’t ask what’s going on?
“Would you see Roberto Baggio going in at the lowest Italian league? No. Or Emilio Butragueno or another great Spanish striker start in the lowest Spanish league? No.
“Two of the country’s greatest-ever defenders and strikers operating at Macclesfield. Why?
So how does that get looked at and people, not say, ‘this doesn’t sit right with me?’
“It’s an absolute disgrace, that story in itself is simply allowed to pass us by.
A long pause is followed by laughter.