Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has played down the prospect of Michael Johnston being loaned out by the Scottish champions this season.
The exciting 19-year-old winger has been the subject of enquiries from “a number of clubs” according to Rodgers, although he added he was unaware of any possibility the player could join Hibs on loan as part of Celtic striking a deal for transfer target John McGinn.
There is firm interest in Johnston from St Mirren manager Alan Stubbs, while the teenager himself has admitted he may have to consider a loan move in order to further his development with regular first team football.
But Rodgers insists Johnston, in contention to make his European debut for Celtic tonight in the second leg of their Champions League first qualifying round tie at home to Alashkert, could yet have a significant role in his plans for the coming campaign.
“Mikey is a big talent,” said Rodgers. “There’s obviously interest from a number of clubs in getting him on loan. You are in the situation where it’s a case of can you give his talent the game time he needs? “With Alan Stubbs, we had a very good chat about Mikey and they’ve got a good history at St Mirren of bringing young players through. There are other guys I’ve spoken to as well, so we’ll see.
“It just depends. We don’t want him to stagnate. He might play less games here but he’ll be learning still and that’s important. Just being around this squad will help his development, as opposed to only getting games in his legs.
“He’s developing well but, at this point, we are not thinking of letting him out on loan. You always have to be mindful there are a couple of injuries in our first team squad and we may need Mikey.
“But you don’t want to stop that growth and development. Some young players need to have a career outside a club to have a career in it. Others, like Kieran Tierney, can go in and play regular first team football for Celtic straight away. You are always trying to balance giving them games or letting them go out on loan.
“It’s can’t always be a good loan, sometimes you have a bad loan as well. Some players have spells that don’t quite work out but good or bad can work for you. It’s about creating the right pathway for the player.”
Johnston was a star performer for the Scotland under-21 side which reached the semi-finals of the Toulon tournament this summer and he thrilled the Celtic support with his contribution and goal in the 4-1 friendly win over Standard Liege on Saturday.
Rodgers is satisfied with the progress being made by a player he feels is beginning to appreciate the need to ensure his individuality can operate effectively within the collective framework of the Celtic side.
“You saw Mikey at the weekend and tactically he’s improving all the time,” added Rodgers. “He has incredible ability one versus one but you have to play with the idea tactically. He has that special ability to go past people, that speed that takes him away, and he’s got confidence and a bit of charisma on the field.
“He doesn’t need an injection of confidence, that’s for sure. He’s got a lovely arrogance when he plays. He knows he can go either way but it’s about fitting in to the collective.
“There’s no top team in the world that plays with freedom and players just going out and playing. You play with a structure and there’s moments in the game when you qualities come in to it.
“He knows now that you can’t run forward if you can’t run back. We will see in time. I can see a great future for him as long as he wants to learn.”
Celtic find themselves in a pleasingly comfortable position tonight after their fine performance in Yerevan last week saw them secure a 3-0 first leg advantage over Alashkert.
But Rodgers is determined there will be no drop in the level of intensity his players bring to the return fixture against the Armenian champions as they seek to confirm a second qualifying round tie against either Valur Reykjavik of Iceland or Norwegian champions Rosenborg.
“They are all important games now,” he said. “We try things out in training and do lots of work there but in these games you have to go with the players that you know, that you trust as such, but it’s a case of getting the job done. We did a good solid, professional job in the first leg and we now look forward to playing at home. The style will always be the same, still always fast, aggressive, dynamic, as much as we possibly can.”