West Bromwich Albion boss Valerien Ismael believes goalkeeper Sam Johnstone is still ‘fully committed’ to his side’s cause despite strong links with a move to the Premier League, as he spoke to the Express and Star.
The 28-year-old has been superb for the Baggies in recent games, performing especially well against Blackpool and Nottingham Forest last week, pulling off a magnificent double save against the former and conceding just twice in his last five league fixtures.
Although they have the likes of Matt Clarke and Kyle Bartley to thank for that record as well, the England international has shown his class and helped to compensate for Albion’s poor attacking form, with his side failing to score in any of their past three games.
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Johnstone is one man that may not be at The Hawthorns next season though, having been heavily linked with a move away from the club since the beginning of the summer with his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.
Amid previous interest from Manchester United and Arsenal, West Ham United were the only side reported to have submitted a formal bid for his services during the previous transfer window, having a £6m offer rejected in mid-July.
However, interest in his signature has grown since then, with Newcastle United the last top-tier team joining the race to secure the Three Lions player alongside the likes of Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite Albion’s poor form, the fact they are now eight points adrift of the top two and these links to the top flight, the Baggies’ manager Ismael was keen to stress the 28-year-old’s commitment to the second-tier side.
He said: “He (Johnstone) is completely committed to the team and to the club.
“He’s a very important player for us.
“A great guy, very focused, he plays at a high level.
“He’s very professional and has a desire to be successful.
“Next year is the World Cup so it’s a win-win situation.
“For Sam, it’s about more than running down a contract, it’s more about being able to play at that level for next year, to be a part of that squad who goes to the World Cup.
“Our part is to help him stay on that level and for sure to play at the highest level we can, for that we need to put in the effort.”
Johnstone will not only be trying to focus for West Brom’s sake, but also for his own gain with the 2022 World Cup coming down the tracks.
He may be firmly in Gareth Southgate’s plans at this stage, but the presence of Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Dean Henderson and Nick Pope means he will need to stay at the top of his game if he wants to secure his seat on the plane to Qatar.
Domestic sides will also be keeping a close eye on his progress, because there’s no doubt he will be back in the Premier League with or without his current side if he can maintain his current form and show consistency.
The key to this consistency will be keeping his concentration and not allowing exit speculation to fill his head. With that, he can minimise the mistakes he makes which will only go on to impress interested teams even more.
However, he has a responsibility to try his utmost for the Baggies with his contract not running out until the end of this term, something he is clearly doing with his spectacular performances between the sticks.