The Big Interview part two: Johnson - My mate Lambo will get it right
Tommy Johnson is confident that former playing pal Paul Lambert will bring the good times back to Villa.
Johnson moved to Celtic in a £2.4m move from Villa in March 1997 and played alongside Lambert, who joined the Buoys for £2m in November 1997 from Champions League winners Borussia Dortmund.
In fact, Johnson and Lambert sat next to each other in the dressing room.
Johnson was in awe of Lambert as an all-action midfield star - and now thinks he has what it takes to lead the claret and blues to fresh success as a manager.
He said: "It's a rebuilding job for Villa at the moment. It's a transitional phase for the club.
"It's been a difficult few years. They have had a few different managers.
"But you just feel they're finding stability now with Lambo.
"I have seen Lambo a few times and watched Villa and I have been impressed by how they look to play.
"This season is definitely about consolidation and trying to get as high up the table as they can.
"It's been the home form that has let them down. If they can sort that out between now and the end of the season, there's no reason they can't move up that table. They seem to be better away from home.
"He will be looking to get through this season and then have a look at it again - who he wants to keep, who he wants to go and who he wants to bring in.
"I feel Villa will be on the up and up with Lambo.
"They have struggled a bit over the past few seasons. But there's big expectations at Villa, you must remember that.
"Lambo will get there in the end. I am sure of it.
"He was a great player. He was a top pro. I used to sit next to him in the dressing room!
"He came to Celtic after winning the European Cup with Borussia Dortmund. He came back to Scotland after receiving an unbelievable education over in Germany.
"He came to Celtic and he was different class. He was a top, top midfielder.
"He didn't score that many goals but when he did, they were always spectacular.
"When Tommy Boyd wasn't available, Lambo was captain. That speaks volumes for him as a person and as a pro.
"He liked a laugh and a joke - not as much as I did - but he took the business of football very seriously. He was very methodical.
"You could see that he was going to end up as a coach or manager because he always took in what the gaffer - Martin O'Neill - was saying and doing.
"If anyone was going to be a coach or manager out of the dressing room, it was Lambo."
Together Johnson and Lambert won the Scottish League Championship in 1998 and 2001, the Scottish Cup in 2001 and the League Cup in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
But, despite these honours, Johnson admits it was a tough decision to move north of the border in the first place - because of his love of life at Villa.
He continued: "It was just fabulous times - finishing fourth and fifth and winning the League Cup and getting to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
"When I did leave, it was only two or three clubs I would ever have considered going to.
"The gaffer, Brian Little, was great to work for. We had brilliant players who got on so well as a group.
"In the end it was a very, very difficult decision to leave.
"The gaffer phoned me up one day and said he wanted to see me. I only lived 20 minutes away from him so I went around to his house.
"We sat there for five or six hours after he told me that Celtic had come in for me.
"He told me it was up to me in terms of what I wanted to do.
"It was so hard. He didn't want me to leave. He just felt he owed it to me to tell me that Celtic had come in for me.
"There was talk of a new contract for me at Villa. But in the end, I looked at him and said: "I've got to go gaffer."
"It's not every day Celtic come in for you. They were playing in Europe every season. I would have regretted it if I hadn't gone up there to Scotland.
"But, trust me, it was a hard, hard decision to come to. I loved playing for Villa. I loved playing for the gaffer."
Johnson now works as European scout for Cardiff City, which takes him abroad most weekends.
But he admits this Sunday will hold special interest for him as his first love, Newcastle United take on his other love Villa.
He added: "I was born in Newcastle and was a Newcastle fan as a kid. I have mixed feelings whenever the two clubs meet.
"I am obviously still a Newcastle fan but I loved playing for Villa. So I have mixed emotions.
"I remember I scored against Newcastle at Villa Park in November 1995 - a 1-1 draw, Les Ferdinand scored for them.
"Then I came back into the team for a 2-2 home draw in January 1997. That was a tough weekend.
"It was my birthday weekend, you see, so I had to get tickets for my whole family!"
Read part one of The Big Interview with Johnson.
Go to full match coverage for Newcastle 1 - 0 Aston Villa (21st February 2014) >
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