Dec. 7, 2021

A Couple of Wide Men

A Couple of Wide Men

On the last day of this summer's transfer window Celtic recruited a relatively unknown 22 year old winger into the first team squad.

Following this weekend’s fixtures the player in question now has the following statistics to show for his senior career so far:

  • Appearances: 87 (Including UEFA Youth League)
  • Minutes: 4210
  • Goals: 16
  • Assists: 17
  • 2018 Under 19’s European Championships – Team of the Tournament

It’s fair to say that like for so many promising young talents he's had a difficult and relatively slow start to a career which has shown an abundance of promise and potential.

A lot was expected of the skilful winger and many big clubs, including Real Madrid were reportedly interested in signing him from an early age.

However, ahead of this season, though still a very young man at just 22 years of age his career appeared to have stalled.

Critics stated that despite his clear pace and trickery he seemed to have little by way of a meaningful end product. Poor decision-making has also been labelled as a feature of his game.

We are of course talking here about our Portuguese superstar, Felipe Jota.

After a string of impressive youth performances, it looked only a matter of time before he would be gracing the biggest stages in the European game, with links to clubs such as Real Madrid a regular occurrence for the talented youngster.

This season – much to Celtic’s benefit - it looks like he’s finally about to fulfil that promise and step up to the next level.

Ange Postecoglou’s faith in the youngster has provided him with regular football for the first time in his short career so far, and a platform to showcase what he can really do when given the opportunity.

We know of course how popular Jota has become with the Celtic support during his short spell in Glasgow so far, but one young man who perhaps doesn’t quite enjoy the same adulation from our fans has followed an incredibly similar path in his career so far.

CELTIC’S MIKEY JOHNSTON

Very much deemed to be Jota’s understudy at this moment in time, let’s look at Mikey Johnston’s career stats:

  • Appearances: 86 (Including UEFA Youth League)
  • Minutes: 3727
  • Goals: 16
  • Assists: 11
  • 2018 Toulon Tournament (U23’s) – Team of the Tournament*

*Jota represented Portugal in this same tournament

As it happens, Mikey is just 20 days younger than Jota and their closeness of age is very much mirrored in the closeness of their stats.

If you're being really analytical you could also argue that his stats so far are more impressive than his Portuguese counterpart, given the same goal return (16) but the fact that Mikey has played around 500 minutes less.

Whilst Real Madrid were credited with an interest in Jota, it was also rumoured that Chelsea were keen to move for Johnston when he initially broke through to the Celtic first team, however both youngsters choosing to stay with the clubs that gave them their chance in senior football.

STAT COMPARISON - PRE 2021/22 SEASON

What’s equally interesting is if you take a look at the stats of each player BEFORE the start of this season at Celtic.

Again, Mikey Johnston is marginally ahead of Jota.

Jota:

  • Appearances: 69 (Including UEFA Youth League)
  • Minutes: 2674
  • Goals: 8
  • Assists: 11

Mikey Johnston:

  • Appearances: 73 (Including UEFA Youth League)
  • Minutes: 3408
  • Goals: 16
  • Assists: 11

Fast forward to December 2021. Are we saying that Mikey is currently at the same level as Jota? No. That would be a stretch.

But can he get somewhere close to those level and to the consistency that Jota has found? Absolutely he can. The evidence is there that he has the talent to do so.

SPLITTING OPINIONS

It’s interesting to witness just how little faith large sections of our support currently have that Mikey Johnston can make his mark at Celtic and earn the plaudits that Jota is currently receiving.

As we’ve seen, their career stats to date are bizarrely similar

Mikey, who's been with the club since he was 9 years of age, has clearly had bad luck in terms of injuries since he initially broke through to the first team under Brendan Rodgers.

Not only with the  injuries he’s picked up, but also with when those injuries occurred.

Last season was just about the worst season in modern times to be recovering from an injury. Let alone one which meant you missed a whole year of football.

Not only did Covid stop non-essential games of football from happening (Youth Football, Development Team etc) but there were also less recovery staff allowed to work with players due to the restrictions that were imposed.

As an aside we also found ourselves in a season where it seemed that anything that could go wrong did go wrong, with the addition of a manager who appeared to abandon any thought of playing natural wingers.

As in life, there are absolutely no guarantees in football.

A very small percentage of young footballers go on to make a living from the sport, to reach a high level in the game, and to ultimately realise their true potential.

There's no doubt that Jota is a few steps further on the ladder than Mikey currently is, and time will tell if he manages to make up some ground on his team-mate over the remainder of this season and beyond.

He may or may not go on to fulfil the undoubted promise he has always shown, but whether he does or not I firmly believe that he deserves to be given every chance to do so by the Celtic support.

Over to you, Mikey.

Listen to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly here where we discuss the impressive win v Dundee Utd, the ongoing fallout from Kyogo's "offside" goal v Hearts, and  preview of the tough remaining games in December.