When Ange Postecoglou said Alistair Johnston has had an “interesting career path” to Celtic he wasn’t kidding.
The full-back – who can also play in central defence as part of a back three – sealed a January transfer move to Celtic last night as he departed CF Montreal.
It’s just the latest twist in the 24-year-old’s career to date having played in college, at a semi-professional level, and then becoming an 11th overall pick in the 2020 MLS Superdraft.
Add into the mix a healthy 33 caps for his country – the three latest additions coming at the World Cup and it has been a bit of a whirlwind period for Johnston.
But it could have been very different even from an early age.
Born in Vancouver to a Canadian father and Northern Irish mother Johnston would play soccer in the summer and switch to competitive ice hockey in the winter growing up.
In his own words, Johnston has always “loved the feeling of just laying someone out” whether that be on the rink or on the pitch.
It’s an attitude he developed in hockey but has served him well in football – and will be put to the test in the Scottish game.
But, given Johnston’s father was and is a “huge football fan” it’s of little surprise that it was the sport he would seriously pursue instead of a career on the ice.
The defender – who started out as a central midfielder in his youth – would first play competitive soccer with Lakeshore SC after his family moved to Montreal when he was just four.
Johnston would then switch teams when he was seven and his family again moved, this time to Aurora, Ontario. The Celtic new boy would play for Aurora SC and Richmond Hill SC before semi-professional club ANB Futbol.
The defender was quickly called up to the Canadian youth program at an under-18 camp in 2015 when he was only 16 years old. Johnston was invited for a tryout with French club Troyes AC but ended up playing with Vaughan SC in Ontario.
With the club, Johnston would win the 2015 under-18/under-19 Disney Soccer Showcase, OYSL under-18 league title and the under-21 Ontario Cup in 2016 and 2017.
Johnston then headed to college and attended St John’s University in New York for two years before making the move to Wake Forrest University in North Carolina in 2018 for a tougher challenge academically and in football.
From there, Johnston was selected in the MLS Superdraft to join Nashville SC. After one season, the club exercised a contract option to keep Johnston – but he was transferred to Montreal just weeks later in exchange for $1million and a percentage of future transfer fees.
Johnston – by this time known for his tireless running and combative nature on the pitch – played 35 times for Montreal last season where he earned an admirer in Ange Postecoglou and would be convinced to move to Celtic after talks with the manager and glowing recommendations from Victor Wanyama who was his team-mate in Canada.
While now taking the leap to join European football, there is an inescapable Celtic connection Johnston cited as he was unveiled by Celtic in a Zoom call as he recovers from World Cup duty.
The defender has family in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. He was raised in a British household – albeit 3,000 miles away – and was constantly watching Scottish and English professional football.
His move to Celtic was branded “perfect fit” by the player, and his immediate family – who are considering a return to the UK – have already begun planning for trips to Parkhead next year.
Johnston will complete his unusual, yet somehow familiar journey to Celtic next week when he joins up with Postecoglou and the squad for training.