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Brennan Johnson: The man to fill Wales’ Gareth Bale-shaped void

Wales' Brennan Johnson during training
Johnson is central to Wales' plans moving forward - Reuters/Paul Childs

It does not require much investigative nous to uncover the identity of the man known only as “Player A” in the written reasons for Nottingham Forest’s four-point deduction. The mystery is effectively solved as early as page two of the 50-page document, when “Player A” is described as a footballer who transferred from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham Hotspur in September.

“Player A” can therefore only be Brennan Johnson and, while that codename feels rather pointless, the document does provide plenty of fascinating nuggets about the 22-year-old. Firstly, by underlining how important Johnson’s sale was to Forest’s financial situation. And secondly, by demonstrating just how talented and attractive a player he has become.

The written reasons reveal the remarkable amount of interest in Johnson during last summer’s transfer window. With varying degrees of seriousness, the following clubs were all in the conversation: Manchester United, Spurs, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Brentford, Crystal Palace and Atletico Madrid. Chelsea were not mentioned in the investigation’s findings, but they were also keen.

It takes a special player to attract the attention of all those clubs at once. Atletico even went as far as making a formal offer, worth £42.9 million. If the Spanish team had been able to shift Joao Felix out of the door earlier in the window, Telegraph Sport understands, those negotiations could have progressed quickly.

In the end it was Spurs who won the race, and over recent months Johnson has become an increasingly important member of Ange Postecoglou’s side. In his last seven matches, Johnson has scored three goals and registered two assists.

Tottenham Hotspur's Brennan Johnson celebrates scoring their second goal of the game during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham
Brennan Johnson is starting to blossom in a Spurs shirt - PA/Nick Potts

This week, the focus of “Player A” has shifted away from club football and towards Wales. On Thursday, Johnson and his international team-mates face Finland in a Euro 2024 play-off semi-final. If they win that, they will have a final against either Poland or Estonia next week.

It is an occasion that requires big players to step up, for stars to shine. In previous years, Gareth Bale was the man for the job. Now, with Bale retired and Aaron Ramsey nowhere near full fitness, Wales are in need of a new hero. Johnson is the most obvious candidate.

There are some effective attacking players in Rob Page’s squad. The likes of Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Kieffer Moore have all impressed on the international stage. But none of them are as qualified for the role of saviour as Johnson, the £47.5 million forward who is likely to be playing in the Champions League next season.

In short, Johnson is now the standout talent in a Wales team that has historically relied on individual players to produce defining moments. Without Bale, Wales need someone else to deliver, and Page needs to find a way to make the most of Johnson’s speed and ability.

So far, it must be said, the Wales manager has struggled in that regard. Johnson’s role in the team has not been settled, and he has struck just two goals in 24 international appearances. There are encouraging parallels with Bale, though, that go beyond their shared Spurs connection: Bale scored only twice in his first 26 matches for Wales.

Of course, Johnson is not Bale. He will never be Bale. But he can become a leader and, based on his natural talent, he should be able to handle that responsibility. Proof of his growing profile can be found in the pages of British GQ, where Johnson has discussed fashion and posed for stylish pictures.

Wales' Brennan Johnson and Turkey's Abdulkerim Bardakci square up during the UEFA EURO 2024 European qualifier match between Wales and Turkey at Cardiff City Stadium on November 21, 2023 in Cardiff, United Kingdom
Johnson (right) has yet to show is best for Wales but can develop into a leader in the mould of Gareth Bale - Getty Images/Ian Cook

It helps the Welsh cause that Johnson has now found his place at Spurs, where he has been provided with a personal chef and a tailor-made gym programme. Postecoglou has a specific way of training and it took some time for Johnson to adapt to his new surroundings.

At Forest, where Welshman Steve Cooper played a crucial role in his development, Johnson’s job was to attack the opposition at pace. Get the ball, drive forward. At Spurs, he must also worry about his defensive positioning and the movement of his own full-backs, who in Postecoglou’s system are often more advanced than the wingers.

“He has taken the information on board,” said Postecoglou earlier this month. “He has worked really hard in the areas we have asked him to work hard in. He is beginning to get the rewards now.”

Away from the field, Johnson does not behave like a superstar-in-waiting. A family lad, he goes back to Nottingham whenever the schedule allows. He has the same friends he grew up with, and often has dinner with his former Forest team-mates.

If Johnson can fulfil his potential, his life will inevitably change. That is what almost every footballer wants, though, to be the star and the hero for club and country. To be his team’s Player A, if you will. Johnson has that chance this week, and Wales need him to take it.

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