Alistair Johnston’s lengthy lay-off creates right back issue

Celtic’s right back position for the majority of the past decade was dominated by one particular Swedish cult-hero, Mikel Lustig. Since the 94-time capped Swedish international left the club in 2019, many right backs have been brought into Celtic as the club looked to find the heir to Lustig’s throne.

Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig lift the League Cup Trophy during the Betfred Cup Final between Celtic and Aberdeen at Hampden Park on December 2, 2018. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Players in that position have come and gone, failing to repeat the longevity and consistency Lustig achieved in Glasgow’s East End.

Jeremie Frimpong and Josip Juranovic bring back fond memories, two quality players but two players who were ultimately not at the club long enough to leave a lasting impact. Other names such as Jonjoe Kenny and Jeremy Toljan will surely bring back traumatic flashbacks for Celtic fans.

But the signing of Alistair Johnston has to be one of the club’s best bit of business in recent times. His first game away at Ibrox, my first impressions of the Canadian international was that he was a strong, composed full back who looked as good if not better than the man he was being brought into replace (Josip Juranovic).

Josip Juranovic of Celtic shouts to Celtic support during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Rangers FC and Celtic FC at on January 2, 2023 Photo by Richard Callis/SPP

Six months, a league plus a League cup and Scottish cup double later and Johnston has been sidelined for six to eight weeks, raising the question whether investment in that position is needed for the upcoming season.

Anthony Ralston flattered to deceive in a Celtic shirt last season in the limited games he featured in, failing to repeat his remarkable first season under Ange Postecoglou. A season where the 24-year-old scored five times and registered nine assists across 47 games.

Brendan Rodgers may be able to unlock this form in Ralston again, but questions should be asked whether Celtic can do better in that position to provide more competition for Alistair Johnston.

19/02/2023. Max Johnston during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Motherwell and Heart of Midlothian at Fir Park, Motherwell, Photo Malcolm Mackenzie PSI

Max Johnston is a player who could come in and provide cover on the right side of the defence, the 19-year-old is coming off an extremely impressive season at Motherwell and decided against renewing his contract, resulting in the player becoming a free agent this summer.

However, any deal for the Scottish u21 international is very unlikely with the player rumoured to be close to joining Austrian side Sturm Graz.

If Celtic are to progress in Europe which seems to be a higher priority for Rodgers and the board than his last stint at the club, the club must invest in a young, quality right back who can replicate Alistair Johnston’s influence.

Time will tell if there is movement on that front.

James French

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