Max Johnston was named Scottish Football Writers’ Association (SFWA) Young Player of the Year, capping off a season that would see the 19-year-old register two goals and three assists in 14 Scottish Premiership appearances. Motherwell boss Stuart Kettlewell was full of praise for his full-back and believes Scottish clubs should give their young players more opportunities.
“An amazing accolade and thoroughly deserving of it, in my opinion. I saw a stat recently about the number of young players in Scotland under the age of 21 that get the opportunity to play. I pay testament to the young lad, Dylan Smith, out there for Ross County, he comes on, 16 years old. Lennon Miller for us came to the park at 16. James Furlong, 19, Max Johnston, 19.
“There’s not an awful lot of players playing an awful lot of football. It was something that was brought to my attention. I am a huge believer in it. We have to get a balance right with trying to produce our own and trying to filter through our own players, so I am delighted that Max has got that award, but I am also delighted that it shows that the process of academy players earning the right to play, the achievements that can come off the back of it.”
Born in Middlesbrough, England, Johnston joined Motherwell’s academy at 12 years old and rose up the ranks before making his first-team debut on February 13, 2021, against Hamilton Academical, following that up by playing the full 90 minutes a week later against St Johnstone. The following season, he joined Queen of the South and racked up 2 goals and 2 assists in 25 league appearances, becoming a regular in Scotland’s second tier under the tutelage of his father and former Scotland international Allan Johnston.
The right-back spent the first six months of the 2022/23 season on loan at fellow second-tier side Cove Rangers before being recalled in the winter transfer window. Johnston, who is the nephew of former St Johnstone, Partick Thistle and Glenavon midfielder Sammy Johnston, has been impressive for the Steelmen in the second half of this Premiership season, taking to life in Scotland’s top-flight like a duck to water.
The 19-year-old’s contract is up at the end of the season and has caught the interest of Benfica, PSV, Torino, and Royal Antwerp, who all sent scouts to watch Johnston. According to the Daily Record, Sporting are also interested in Johnston ever since watching him play for the Scotland under-21s in the Pinatar Cup earlier this year. The Portuguese giants have made it known that they want to speak to Johnston and his representatives this summer over a possible deal.
If Johnston signs for Sporting, that will mean he will be following in the footsteps of Ryan Gauld, who signed for the Lions in 2014 and was dubbed ‘the Scottish Messi’ but never quite lived up to the billing and now plays his football in the MLS for Vancouver Whitecaps. Kettlewell confirmed that Johnston has been offered a new contract and was asked if it was realistic that the young prospect would remain at the club, stating:
“There’s been nothing to suggest otherwise. I’ve got a really good relationship with Max. He’s started every game since I came in, and I knew he was a good player before I came in. I had watched him several times playing at Cove during the first part of the season, and I watched him around the football club, so I know how good he is – and I am seeing him improve and flourish every time he takes to the pitch.
“There has been an offer made to the player, and I understand that he might want to take time over that, but the simple message to Max was that we need him to go and keep performing how he has been of late and show how good a player he is. Sometimes everything else going on in the background can be a bit of a distraction, but he gets full marks from me for how he has handled himself in this situation. I can assure people that we would love to have him here next season.”
The Fir Park side would be due a £300,000 development fee if Johnston was to move on in the summer, but they nevertheless will be looking to tie him down to a new deal and extend his contract past June. If they can’t, then he could very well follow in the footsteps of Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Aaron Hickey, Calvin Ramsay and Nathan Patterson, and become the latest Scottish fullback to earn a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
By: Scott Bradley / @ScottBradleyX
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