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Johnston determined to prove himself 'worthy' of first team spot

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

George Johnston knows he will have to roll up his sleeves to earn a place in Wanderers’ starting line-up this season.

The centre-back, recruited on a free transfer from Feyenoord, will be up against Alex Baptiste, Ricardo Santos and fellow new arrival Will Aimson for a starting spot in Ian Evatt’s side in League One.

Johnston makes no secret of the fact he wants regular football after a taste of the division on loan at Wigan Athletic last season but understands there is plenty of competition in a squad now really starting to take shape this summer.

“I know I have got a lot to show in pre-season and that I’ll have to hit the ground running,” he told The Bolton News. “I’m keeping fit at the moment so that on the first day back I can be as strong as possible and then hopefully impose myself on the squad.

“I want regular football, first and foremost. Last season at Wigan was a relegation battle but I think this time with Bolton we can push on higher up the league and challenge for promotion.

“My targets and the manager’s targets match – we both want to be challenging at the top end of the table.

“But I know I have to roll up my sleeves. Any good club has competition for places and I am not expecting to walk into a team, I don’t think anyone should. You should have to prove you are worthy of a start.”

Johnston, a former captain at Liverpool’s Under-23s, has spent the last two years at Dutch giants Feyenoord after moving to the Netherlands for a six-figure fee in August 2019.

Despite being on the periphery of the first team at Anfield, Johnston knew he had to move on to get the regular football he craved.

“It was the opportunity more than anything,” he explained. “I’d been involved in first team training a bit, a couple of pre-season games and then a week before the season I got a call saying Feyenoord had put an offer in and Liverpool had accepted it.

“Jaap Stam was the manager and the next day I was on a plane over there.

“I think me and Nat Phillips both moved on the same day – he went out on loan to Stuttgart and I was in Holland.”

Like many who graduated through the halls of Melwood, his Liverpool upbringing remains a source of pride, even though he knew at the time it had drawn to a natural conclusion.

“It is one of the best places to get brought up for a footballer,” he said. “I was there from the age of eight, and the 12 years was probably the best education I could have had.

“It has helped me build good habits. They teach you to be a good footballer on and off the pitch.

“It was hard to say goodbye to Liverpool but it was one of the better ways for it to end. You wouldn’t want a contract to run down and then be looking for a new club.

“For a team to come in and buy me was great. I’d felt like I was close to where I wanted to be at Liverpool and then for a top European club to come in for me was a no brainer.”

Johnston spent one-and-a-half seasons at De Kuip, briefly sampling Dutch football at its most raucous before the pandemic forced football behind closed doors.

He made only a handful of first team appearances for the Rotterdam side but believes the experience of living away from home and training with top players has helped him progress.

“Everyone in England knows the top Dutch teams and that they are good clubs but you don’t realise how big they are until you are over there and part of it,” he said.

“The first time I was in a stadium I’d never seen anything like it, the passion of the fans, the Ultras, it’s crazy.

“There was a Europa League game against Rangers and I think that was the most intense atmosphere I have ever been involved in.

“It was a little frustrating but I don’t think it stopped any development,” he said. “I was training with top international players every day so it was hugely beneficial.

“Everyone wants to play as much as they can and I did get a bit frustrated I wasn’t playing but it didn’t stop me improving and learning.”


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