Opinion: Standard Liege move could save Mikey Johnston’s Celtic career

One last throw of the dice. One last throw at the dart board. One last attempt at salvation. Pick any metaphor you like, but when it comes to Mikey Johnston’s Celtic career it all amounts to the same thing: the player must go out on loan to try and rescue his status as an employee of this football club. For far too long now we have been told about the winger’s limitless potential, and everytime we get told this, he flatters to deceive or is on the sidelines injured.

Johnston possesses an abundance of talent – that much is clear and undeniable. The player has the unique skillet of being able to go past opposing defenders like a hot knife through butter. His technical ability is beyond reproach almost and has been named as the most skilful player at Parkhead numerous times in the past; both by his teammates and those in the media.

 Mikey Johnston celebrates with Anthony Ralston as he scores his team’s first goal during the  Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Hearts at Celtic Park on May 19, 2019. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

To say he is now at a crossroads in his career would be the understatement of the century. Johnston has been on his last legs now longer than the original Rangers were before they finally went under and became extinct. His catalogue of injuries is as tiresome as it is frustrating. Neil Lennon voiced his displeasure one time in particular on an evening at Dens Park. Johnston was a sub that came on and then had to go off again through injury – but not before telling Lennon he was fine to continue, afterwards proceeding to go down and signal to the bench he was finished for that occasion.

Lennon’s reaction was intense. However, to say there are not those of us amongst the support that had a grudging acceptance that the manager was valid in his frustrations would be telling plain lies.

For all the skill and trickery he yields, Johnston can be a character that evokes feelings of deep annoyance when he is on the field of play. Too often he tries to hold on to the ball when there are passing options available. The opposition merely crowd him out and overpower him due to a lack of upper-body strength on his part.

Now that is no fault of his own, that was the way he was made. But there has also been no serious attempt to build that part of his body up in general.

Look at Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney when they knew they had to become more robust to cope with the rigours of Scottish football consistently. Johnston’s make-up looks virtually the same since he broke onto the scene at Celtic Park. He’s had some fine moment’s in a Celtic shirt for sure; the set-up for Edouard’s goal at Ibrox back in 2019 a stand-out piece.

They have been few and far between though. That is the major gripe most within the support have. With the additions Ange Postecoglou has brought into the wide areas it’s extremely difficult to see Mikey getting much game time this year at all.

His best solution would be undoubtedly finding a loan deal somewhere that will allow him to get back on track and enjoy his football again. That’s why the rumoured interest from former Hoops’ boss Ronny Deila would be a perfect solution if serious.

He would first and foremost be working with someone whom he knows from the past, whilst he will not have the pressure he is under in Scotland to perform. Maybe the kid could do with a pressure-free environment for a short while. Let him focus on his game and build himself up again.

His confidence will have taken a battering lately and the form of Abada, Jota and Maeda probably won’t have helped him in that regard. So he must seek pastures new for the sake of his Celtic career, if not his occupation more generally.

The other thing with a move to Belgium is that the Jupiler Pro League is nowhere near as physical as the Scottish Premiership. Look at how Marian Shved and Jack Hendry have flourished during their time inl Europe. Perhaps an environment where he is afforded more time on the ball would help him grow and develop again.

It seems like a custom made fit for Johsnton right now in all honesty. Deila will also know how to handle him and get the best from him due to his confidence being shot. It would do him no harm at all to explore the possibility.

One only needs to look at the evidence of Ryan Christie and Kristoffer Ajer to know that a loan spell away from Paradise can be the best thing for your game at a certain point. I’m afraid Mikey reached that point a very long time ago.

He should have been farmed out and told to make sure he came back fitter and stronger. A new environment might just salvage and be able to rebuild up to now, what has been a flailing career. There will be no more chances after this.

This is the last chance saloon, Mikey.

Take it.

Paul Gillespie

About Author

I'm a Garngad Bhoy through and through. My first ever Celtic game was a friendly against Italian side Parma at Celtic Park, in 2002. Currently a student of English Literature and Education at the University of Strathclyde for my sins. Favourite game would be a toss up between beating Manchester United with that Naka freekick, or the game against the Oldco when Hesselink scored in the dying seconds. I'm still convinced Cal Mac is wasted playing that far back.


  1. Eamonn Little on

    No brainer if he is offered the chance to go to Belgium.Agree totally with Paul.I think if offer comes to go out on loan,he is really in no position to refuse,if he harbours any ambitions of remaining on Celtics books.Ladt chance Mikey,your painted into a corner here mate.

  2. He needs to become less selfish and remember that he is not the only player on the park.
    Often he misses the runs of team mates or simply refuses to make the obvious pass.
    I hope Ronny brings out the best in him and that he becomes a success for Standard Liege and benefits from a change of scene and another culture. Coming back to Celtic? I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I believe he will be better away. He needs to put down roots and his chance at Celtic is gone. If he doesn’t make it in Belgium, he is finished. If he does make it then I think he should make a go of it with Liege. He would owe it to them.

  3. He doesn’t have the ability to do anything when he’s on the park. Maybe they should charge people to watch him on the trading ground where he is seemingly superhuman.