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Would Mikey Johnston moving on from Celtic be best for all parties?

THERE has never been any doubt about the ability that Mikey Johnson possesses, certainly if you value the opinions of the Celtic managers who have attempted to nurture this prodigious talent over the last few years.

It is very difficult to find an instance where Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon or more recently, Ange Postecoglou, have been anything but gushing in their praise for the winger. Well, apart from that time Lennon told him to ‘f*** off’ live on the telly at McDiarmid Park a couple of years back.

That incident, to refresh your memory, came as Johnston limped sheepishly from the pitch just minutes after insisting to his manager that he was fine, prompting Lennon to use his last substitute.

To describe it as a moment of madness seems a little strong. Daftness, maybe? Either way, it proved to be to the detriment of his team on the night in the short term, and left him with another of the long-term injuries that have so far plagued his Celtic career.

“It might have compounded the problem,” Lennon said afterwards. “It was annoying for me because we were making a substitution and he said he was alright to carry on.

“But quite clearly after a couple of minutes that wasn’t the case. We had already made the substitution.

“So it was a learning experience, if you want to call it that.”

When you trawl through the various assessments of Johnston by his managers, the theme of these ‘learning experiences’ is a common one.

“He is an exciting young talent at 19 years of age,” said Rodgers of his young prospect back in 2018. “He is learning the other side of the game in terms of the tactical idea of pressing and how to work and how to recover but there is no doubt he is a special talent.”

He later added, when asked if Johnston had a future at Celtic; “We will see in time. I can see a great future for him as long as he wants to learn.”

Almost four years later, has he learnt enough to suggest that he may well become the player all of these managers thought he could, and be a real asset for Celtic? Alas, all available evidence would suggest not.

In the summer of 2019, Johnston sat down with the press at Lennoxtown after a season that had garnered five goals from 23 appearances. He seemed to have a steely resolve that this would be his moment to really establish himself as one of the first names on the Celtic teamsheet, and he would back that up soon after with a stunning strike against FK Sarajevo in the Champions League qualifiers.

Fast forward two-and-half years though, and we’re still having the same old conversations when it comes to the now 22-year-old.

The caveat, of course, is the injuries that he has had to endure. Though he made his Celtic debut in May 2017, Johnston clocked up just his 30th start for Celtic in the 0-0 draw with St Mirren, and there is no doubt that he has more than his fair share of bad luck with injuries along the way.

Those lay-offs only tell part of the story, though. Johnston has, for instance, made 17 appearances for Celtic this season. But just three of those were from the start, suggesting that manager Postecoglou trusts the players he has brought in far more than Johnston.

The stats would suggest he is right to. While Johnston has impressed on occasion, particularly in the 3-0 win against Dundee United at Tannadice, he has been outshone by Jota and Liel Abada in almost every department throughout the season.

Johnston has yet to score for Celtic this term, and in fact, hasn’t found the net for his side since December 1st, 2019. That’s 37 appearances over three years without a goal. By contrast, 20-year-old Abada has already chipped in with 10 goals in 35 appearances since arriving in the summer.

His former manager Rodgers once said of Johnston that he had a ‘lovely arrogance’ about him, the sort you need when you are a creative, attacking player. But it seems that even this has been knocked out of him over the last year or so, with Johnston feeling the weight of criticism from Celtic fans – of which, he is one – and bristling at suggestions that his own lack of work ethic was contributing to his maladies.

In October, he said: “It was a very low time for me [his most recent period out injured].

“Obviously, a lot of people don’t know what goes on in the background. They’ll think I’m lazy and not a professional. But I try to do everything to try and get myself right to play for the club.

“Thankfully, it’s starting to pay off now and hopefully people will see that.”

So far, lamentably, we aren’t quite seeing that hard work pay off for him. He was challenged by Postecoglou to seize the opportunity that injuries to others had afforded him a couple of months ago, but it is fair to say that he has failed to really do so.

There is interest in Johnston from elsewhere in Scotland, as there has been throughout his Celtic career. At no other time has it seemed as likely though that a move to one of these potential suitors – Dundee United are known to be admirers – may not only be possible, but may also be to his own benefit. Even a loan deal for the remainder of the season may allow him to rediscover the spark that made him such an exciting prospect when he burst onto the first-team scene at Celtic.

As it is, it is hard to shake the feeling – as regrettable as it may be – that Johnston perhaps isn’t quite going to make the grade at the club he loves.

It is frustrating. But that too seems to be the adjective to best sum up Mikey Johnston.

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