Defender Alistair Johnston, one of Canada’s standout players at the 2022 World Cup, is on his way to Glasgow Celtic in Scotland.
CF Montreal confirmed the move on Saturday, saying it would take effect on January 1, the start of the January transfer window.
Celtic have said Johnston has signed a five-year contract and will meet the team next weekend when he returns from training camp in Portugal.
Although Celtic and Montreal have not specified a transfer price, Glasgow’s Daily Record reported that the deal is worth around three million pounds (C$4.97m), with Johnston getting 10%.
The 24-year-old defender/forward from Aurora, Ont., earned $445,625 with Montreal last season, according to the MLS Players Association.
Johnston was one of six Canadians to play in all three Group F matches at the World Cup.
“When a club like Celtic is called, it will turn any footballer’s head, and especially me, who grew up in a British family, Celtic were one of the clubs that are near and dear to our hearts,” said Johnston on Celtic TV. And for me it is one of the greatest clubs in the world.
“Just hearing that this was a club interested in me, and seeing the coaching staff project and the progress this team and this club continue to make in Europe as well, is really exciting.”
Johnston has noted that he has “a lot of family” in Scotland and Ireland.
“My father is a huge football fan and my mother is from Northern Ireland so there are tons of connections there, and that’s also what made it perfect.”
Celtic currently top the Scottish Premier League with 14-1-0. The historic club, which counts rock star Rod Stewart among its supporters, has won the Scottish league title 52 times, as well as 40 Scottish Cups, 20 League Cups and the European Cup.
Johnston started a record 31 game streak for Canada, obliterating the record of 27 set by former Canadian captain Bruce Wilson from 1984-86. He won 33 caps in all, with 29 starts.
Johnston’s senior debut coincided with Canada’s opening World Cup qualifier against Bermuda in March 2021. He earned a second cap against the Cayman Islands before missing a match against Aruba in June 2021.
He returned for a game with Suriname later that month and hasn’t missed a game since.
Montreal gave up $1 million in general allocation funds in December 2021 to get Johnston from Nashville SC, which moved him 11th overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft out of Wake Forest.
As of 2022, he has scored four goals for Montreal and added five assists in 33 MLS regular season games, including 30 starts. He also started two playoff games and played in three CONCACAF Champions League games and the Canadian Championship semifinal.
Johnston was named Montreal Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s an example of the way we want a player to evolve once he joins our team; with clear ideas, while giving everything for the team,” said Olivier Renard, Montreal’s vice president and sporting director, in a declaration. An opportunity presents itself with a big club like Celtic, let’s listen to our player.”
Johnston said Montreal helped him “reach new heights I didn’t even know I was capable of.”
Born in Vancouver, Johnston was four when the family moved to Montreal and seven when they settled in Aurora. He was 16 when he made his Canadian youth program debut at an under-18 camp in 2015.
He spent his first two years of college at St. John’s, where he started all 36 games as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Wake Forest, where he captained them in 2019.
Johnston came on as a central midfielder but was moved to right back by Wake Forest manager Bobby Muuss.
“He’s a student of the game, he’s a football junkie,” Muuss (pronounced Muce) said in January 2020. “He’s a guy any coach would love to have in the locker room in terms of what he brings to your team in terms of personality, pace of work, professionalism, ambition… What he has really done for the long-term culture of this group is something I will be indebted to him for life.”
In two seasons with Nashville, Johnston played in 44 games, including 39 starts, with one goal and two assists.
Johnston played club soccer in the Toronto area at Vaughan SC.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 3, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press