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The Big Interview: Sam Johnstone in focus

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The Big Interview: Sam Johnstone in focus

Sam Johnstone has earned the plaudits for his impressive displays between the sticks. 

Prior to the recent defeats to play-off chasing Reading and Fulham, Johnstone recorded seven clean sheets in nine matches contributing to five home wins in a row. 

By his own admission, he overcame a tricky start and Villa’s toughest run of form throughout the season on his arrival in January. 

Now, boss Steve Bruce rarely attends a post-match press conference without a question on the fine display of his goalkeeper. 

One man watching on from a distance with immense pride is former United U18s boss Paul McGuinness. 

Up until February 2016, McGuinness spent 11 years working at the highly-respected Carrington Academy which followed more than a quarter of a century’s service coaching young hopefuls. 

In truth, there are too many of his success stories to mention.  James Chester and Ritchie De Laet are also among those to have developed under his stewardship.

Paul McGuiness 2560

And when asked to outline what traits the Lancashire-born goalkeeper possesses – McGuinness [pictured above] reckons Johnstone has the lot. 

He said: “As a goalkeeper you’ve got to be very single-minded. 

“I think all the top goalkeepers don’t worry about what anybody else is saying. 

“If you’ve got a group and you have a meeting, the goalkeeper is normally the one who will say something, they’ll not worry about what anybody else thinks. 

“They can stand on their own two feet because in games they are on their own. 

“They live and die by their own mistakes. 

“Sam is like that. 

“He’s also very calm, he doesn’t tend to flap in situations and gives a feeling of calmness which is very important for a goalkeeper.”

Last night Manchester City and Chelsea's U18s played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the first leg of their FA Youth Cup final. 

And it was during United’s youngsters’ 2011 success in that very competition that the now 24-year-old really came into his own.  

A 6-3 aggregate win over Sheffield United capped off a fine campaign where the coach saw his young apprentices become men. 

Reflecting on the success, McGuinness admits it was only after the tournament Johnstone’s contribution was fully appreciated by those at Carrington. 

He recalled: “Something I’ll always remember about that run is you think we’ve got a talented team here and then you looked around and realised we didn’t only have a talented team but we also had a big team. 

“We had Sam in goal who was six foot three at the time, Paul Pogba at six foot four inches, Michael Keane who is playing for England now, we had Will Keane up front, it was a big, strong team. 

“We got off the bus when we went to play at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final.

“Sam was probably one of the first off.

“As we got off, the steward said ‘I thought that was the first team getting off the bus!’ because they had that stature. 

“By that time we’d reached the semi-final – a run in the Youth Cup doesn’t half build your confidence, they’d started to feel like professional players. 

“We wore club suits. 

“Round by round, they’re all big games. 

Johnstone FA Youth Cup 2560

“We played in stadiums, the players were following in the footsteps of all these great players from before. 

“Sam grew and looked more and more confident. 

“You looked around the dressing room and you could see everyone had complete confidence in their team-mates. 

“You looked at Sam and you thought ‘no-one is going to beat him, he’s a colossus in the goal’ Paul McGuinness

“You looked at Sam and you thought ‘no-one is going to beat him, he’s a colossus in the goal’

“At that stage Sam wasn’t the star player. 

“We had Ravel Morrison and others who were catching the eye but you look back and realise how dependable he was.” 

These displays caught the attention of Football League clubs looking to bolster their goalkeeping ranks.  

Loan spells at Oldham, Scunthorpe, Walsall, Doncaster Rovers, Yeovil and Preston North End followed and coupled with his three months at Villa Park, have seen him rack up almost 100 senior appearances.  

McGuinness, who worked with England’s youth teams last year believes each spell benefited the young custodian – sentiments echoed by former Villa man Joe Cole. 

McGuinness explained: “They’re essential. 

“Goalkeeping is a very difficult position to learn in academies. 

“You’ve always got two goalkeepers in the age group which means they share the games, they play a half each or they play one game and the other guy’s in the other time. 

“It can be very hard for them to get enough playing time and meaningful playing time in really competitive games. 

“To go on loan is vital, particularly for young goalkeepers because they need to play regularly. 

“For goalkeepers, the style of play from the team doesn’t matter as much – shots are shots. 

“If you put a midfield player in a team, he might not get a touch because they play the long ball. 

“For a goalkeeper, playing at any level of professional or semi-professional football gives them necessary experience and of course they’re playing with men. 

“He’s had a lot of loans now. 

“You have to be independent, you’re going into a new dressing room. 

“That means you’ve got to stand up for yourself both physically and mentally. 

“You’ve got to be able to adapt. 

“You’ve got to take the banter and the pressure of playing for points. 

“I remember him coming back from Scunthorpe and he made that point – he said to me ‘it’s real football’.

“He’s up to 100 appearances now – all scattered among these different clubs. 

“Last year I was away with the England youth team. 

“Joe Cole came in to speak to the lads. 

“He said my advice is get yourself to 50 league games as soon as you can and when you’ve got to 50 get to 100 – now you’re starting to think you’re a player. 

“Sam’s doing that now. 

“He’s doing well at Villa but has got to 100 league games plus internationals.  

“Now with 100 games behind him, he’s doing well at Villa and ready to be an established first team goalkeeper.” 

Johnstone QPR 2560

He’s quickly becoming a firm favourite 80 miles down the M6 too. 

Johnstone’s remarkable clean sheets record and overall commanding displays have earned the praise of claret and blue boss Bruce, who has publicly admitted he’d like to make a permanent bid in the summer. 

And McGuinness says he was thrilled when he learnt of the stopper’s move to his biggest club yet and has been impressed, if unsurprised by his development and ever-improving displays. 

He added: “I was delighted. 

“As an ex-United man, you want Steve Bruce to do well, you know how well his teams have done over the years. 

“I was so pleased for Sam. 

“He’s had other loans but to me, Aston Villa are one of the big clubs in England.  

“He’s at a club with a massive history with a huge following. 

“Villa Park is a big stage.  

“I haven’t spoken to him since he joined. 

“I chat to all the lads when I get chance every now and then. 

“I’m really pleased for him and his family. 

“I’m pleased for his dad who was a goalkeeper at Preston and goalkeeper coach, he’ll be particularly pleased to see him following on and in his footsteps. 

“They’ve got a good family tradition. 

“His brother Max is playing in United’s youth team. 

“I’ve seen them grow up from a young age and seen them develop. 

“He’s had tough times, a couple of injuries when he dislocated his finger while on loan. 

“He had to come back, he’s had setbacks. 

“To see him come through that and develop is great.”

By @AVFCOfficial 19th April 2017