Alistair Johnston profiled: Celtic in ‘advanced talks’ to sign Canada international from MLS side

The Hoops are weighing up a potential long-term replacement for Josip Juranovic if interest in the Croatian leads to a sizable bid.

Celtic have been strongly linked with a move for Canada international defender Alistair Johnston ahead of the upcoming January transfer window - with reports suggesting the club are already in advanced talks.

The 24-year-old, who currently plays for MLS side CF Montreal, started for his country on the right of a back three in their opening World Cup match against Belgium on Wednesday night as John Herdman’s Canucks pushed their opponents all the way in their first tournament appearance since 1986.

Transfermarkt claim that the Scottish champions are aiming to seal a deal to sign Johnston, who is under contract until December 2023 with the option of a further two years.

Alistair Johnston of Canada controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group F match against Belgium

He has scored four times and provided four assists in 39 appearances across all competition for his club in 2022 and has also been capped 31 times by the Canadian national team.

Johnston, who had previously attracted interest from Serie A outfit Bologna, could become the Hoops second piece of early January business with the Parkhead side confirming the pre-contract arrival of Japanese defender Yuki Kobayashi yesterday.

Manager Ange Postecoglou, who stated he wants to bring in two players this winter, has already finalised once piece of business. The Australian boss is believed to be a huge admirer of the versatile defender and a possible move could rest on whether Josip Juranovic completes a big money move elsewhere amid interest from a host of top European clubs.

Who is Alistair Johnston?

Born in Vancouver on 8 October 1998, Alistair William Johnston is a 24-year-old defender who plays primarily at right-back or as a wing-back. He can also be deployed at centre-back but spent much of last season on the right of a midfield five in an inverted role.

After his family moved to Montreal when he was four, Johnston made his debut in the Canadian youth program at an under-18 camp in 2015, playing youth football at a number of different clubs including Vaughan Azzurri where he won a host of accolades such at the Ontario Cup at under-21 level.

He later attended St. John’s University in New York and spent three years playing college football for Red Storm and Wake Forest (North Carolina) during which he changed position from central midfield to right-back.

Johnston was selected by MLS club Nashville SC in the 2020 SuperDraft before officially signing his first senior contract. His first-team debut was delayed until August due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad but he helped his side reach the end-of-season Play-offs in their debut season.

An invitation for the Canada senior national team camp was accepted in January 2021 before making his international debut two months later as a second half substitute against Bermuda in a World Cup qualifier.

He then sealed a move to CF Montreal in exchange for a million dollars in December 2021, with Nashville retaining a percentage of any future sell-on transfer fee. Johnston has since managed to establish himself as a regular starter for Wilfried Nancy’s side, scoring his first goal for the club against Charlotte FC back in May.

What has been said about his future?

Valued at €6million, Johnston is currently the joint-most valuable defender in the Major Soccer League along wih LA Galazy’s Julian Araujo. His rapid rise up the soccer ladder in recent years has been phenomenal since being drafted out of college in 2020.

Johnston - currently starring in Qatar - honed his aggressive style of play during his upbringing by taking part in ice hockey.

Johnston in action for Nashville SC against the Austin FC at Nissan Stadium in May 2021

He told Sportsnet: “I played hockey competitively in the winter and then soccer in the summer, and I was always known as a guy who loved to bodycheck and to hit guys. I’ve always loved the feeling of just laying someone out, as crazy as that sounds, and I just brought that attitude into soccer.

“I love a good tackle to this day. Nothing gets mre more excited (than) if I get clattered into by an opponent or I clatter into him and it’s clean and the guy starts pushing me back. That’s something I just love.”

How likely is the deal to go ahead?

According to Transfermarkt, Celtic are leading the race with a deal between the player and CF Montreal already formally agreed upon. A move to Scotland would prove relatively straightforward for Johnston as he holds a UK passport on top of his Northern Irish and Canadian citizenship.

It’s unlikely Celtic would need to shell out more than £800,000 to land him on a permanent basis. However, his parent club would be due a 10-per cent cut of any profit made over what they paid for Johnston.

Alistair Johnston of Canada passes the ball as Jonathan Rubio of Honduras defends during a 2022 World Cup qualifier

Celtic would need to have a contingency plan in place if an offer for Juranovic were to be accepted. At present, Johnston might not be a priority signing but the physicial attributes required in Scottish football should play to his strengths due to his ice hockey background as a youngster.

North America football reporter Manuel Veth tweeted: “Alistair Johnston is closing in on a move to Scottish giants #CelticFC. A deal is now advanced. The #CanMNT star also has a UK passport. He is under contract at #CFMTL until 2023 with 2 option years.”

Where will he fit into the current Celtic side?

Johnston is viewed as a long-term replacement for in-demand Croatian international Josip Juranovic. He would appear well-suited to Postecoglou’s build out from the back approach and his biggest strengths are his passing ability and set-piece threat.

Not renowned for dribbling with the ball, Johnston impressed up against Belgium’s Real Madrid star Eden Hazard last night. He would be expected to nail down a spot in the starting line-up.