UPDATE (Dec. 3) – Fresh off his performances for Canada at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, CF Montréal have transferred defender Alistair Johnston to Scottish Premier League powerhouse Celtic FC, the club announced Saturday.
The transfer will be effective as of January 1, 2023 and is a five-year deal at Celtic. Johnston is Montréal's second major outbound transfer, as star midfielder Djordje Mihailovic leaves to join AZ Alkmaar in Holland's Eredivisie.
The 24-year-old played one season for Montréal after being acquired in a trade from Nashville SC, helping them finish second in the Eastern Conference standings.
"I want to thank Alistair, the man, for his professionalism and his mentality in everything he has done with the club, but also the player, who has brought us a lot on and off the pitch, for Montréal and the national team," VP and chief sporting officer Olivier Renard said in a release.
"He's an example of the way we want a player to evolve once he joins our team; with clear ideas, while giving everything for the team. When an opportunity with a big club such as Celtic arises, we listen to our player."
Johnston's MLS career included 5g/7a across 77 appearances in three seasons. He's scored once in 33 caps for Canada.
“Montréal welcomed me into its family from day one and helped me reach new levels that I didn’t even know I was capable of,” Johnston said. “I was lucky enough to come into a group with great leadership and talent, and most importantly great people.
"Although it was only one season together, it was an unforgettable one. It’s not just the records that we broke on the pitch that I’ll remember, but also the connection we built with the entire fanbase over that time. That passion was evident and made playing for this club in front of all of you so special. Thank you.”
ORIGINAL (Nov. 25) – Scottish Premiership powerhouse Celtic are in advanced talks with CF Montréal to sign Canadian international defender Alistair Johnston, a source confirms to MLSsoccer.com. No deal is done yet, but talks are at an advanced stage.
Transfermarkt's Manuel Veth first reported the discussions.
Johnston, 24, enjoyed a career year with Montréal during his first season (2022) at the club, posting four goals and five assists in 33 matches. He can play right back, wingback or right center back in a back three, as he does with Canada. He has 31 caps with Les Rouges, including starting their opening World Cup match against Belgium (1-0 defeat) on Wednesday.
Montréal acquired Johnston in a trade with Nashville SC last December. Nashville have a 10% sell-on clause after $1 million is reached. Johnston has a United Kingdom passport, meaning he automatically qualifies to be registered for the Scottish Premiership.
“There is only so much I can say right now but if an opportunity arises, sure," Johnston said, via the Daily Record. "I am really happy at Montréal and we have a great thing going, but at the same time I want to test myself, and I want to see how high I can go."
Celtic are giants in Scotland, having won the league 52 times, including 10 of the last 11 seasons. The club currently rosters US men's national team center back Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Nashville, during their expansion season, selected Johnston in the 2020 SuperDraft. He's since blossomed into one of the league's best defenders and a mainstay with Canada. He's made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs each season in the league, posting 5g/7a in 77 matches total.
“That’s something that for all athletes deep down is in our DNA," Johnston said. "You want to be competitive and push yourself to play against the best and see how high you can go. We never want to look back at our career and have the, ‘What if?’ question. I’ve nightmares thinking about that."
Change in Montréal
Montréal are in a transformational winter. After finishing second in the Eastern Conference, star midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is leaving to join AZ Alkmaar in Holland's Eredivisie, DP midfielder Victor Wanyama is out of contract, and midfielder Ismael Kone is heavily expected to leave after the World Cup with Canada.
Meanwhile, head coach Wilfried Nancy is a target for the Columbus Crew's managerial opening. Johnston leaving would create another key player to replace.
READ MORE: MLS Transfer Tracker presented by Avant