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Brennan Johnson follows Gareth Bale for Wales and Harry Kane at Tottenham

Brennan Johnson in Wales training
Brennan Johnson made his senior debut for Wales in 2020
Venue: Skonto Stadium, Riga Date: Monday, 11 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app, plus live text
Highlights: Match of the Day Wales. BBC One Wales from 22:40 BST and later on demand

He has to replace Harry Kane at Tottenham and Gareth Bale with Wales.

It is a task that is closer to impossible than simply intimidating; beyond most and daunting to nearly all.

And yet for 22-year-old Brennan Johnson, that is the challenge he now faces.

You would not have known it, given the way he breezed around Wales’ hotel base before their games against South Korea and Latvia.

His relaxed, low-key demeanour was the same as it was before he became transfer deadline day’s big news, his boyish looks and easy smile – not to mention TikTok habit – no different.

It is all in contrast to the devastating raw attacking talent that he shows on the pitch, marked by his searing pace.

Johnson’s speed has been matched by the acceleration of his rise, having gone from playing League One football a little more than two years ago to becoming a £47m-plus Spurs signing and a focal point of a new-look Wales.

Even his biggest admirers would not suggest Johnson is about to threaten Kane’s 213 Premier League goals at Tottenham, or even the historic 41 that Bale managed in the red of Wales.

But given his promise, Johnson’s young head now carries the heavy crowns of both club and country.

“It doesn’t sound easy when you say it like that,” says national team-mate and long-time friend Neco Williams with a wry smile.

And Williams, like others who have known Johnson over the course of his still fledgling footballing story, is convinced the boy from West Bridgford has what it takes, that he belongs at the top.

Forest, Beckham and football in the blood

Football is in the blood for Johnson.

His father David’s playing career included a five year-spell at Nottingham Forest, which led to the family settling in West Bridgford, in the shadow of the City Ground.

It was only natural, then, that after showing signs of promise at local club Dunkirk, the younger Johnson joined Forest’s academy at the age of eight.

Watching the senior team as a boy, Johnson idolised Forest’s Wales international striker of the time, Robert Earnshaw.

And thanks to his father, Johnson counted another rather more famous footballer as a mentor.

David Johnson had come through the youth ranks at Manchester United alongside David Beckham, who continues to follow the career of his friend’s son and still sends Brennan the occasional pre-match text to wish him luck.

David Johnson celebrates a goal for Ipswich
David Johnson’s goalscoring exploits for Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town saw him courted by all four home nations

Johnson senior had a complicated international career. He represented England at youth and B level, rejected an approach from Northern Ireland and was called into senior Wales and Scotland squads before eventually settling on Jamaica, his country of birth.

His son might have taken a similar path when he played for England Under-16s and Under-17s, but he opted for Wales from under-19s onwards, describing his decision to switch as “easy”.

He qualified for Wales thanks to his Welsh mother, whose parents are from Rhayader in mid-Wales.

Johnson has spoken of his grandparents’ pride in watching him play for Wales, and noted they even tried to get him to wear ‘Price-Johnson’ on the back of his shirt as a nod to his mother’s maiden name, Price, which is also his middle name.

“We didn’t have to persuade him,” Paul Bodin, the former Wales left-back who managed Johnson during his time in charge of the under-21s, tells BBC Sport Wales.

“His links are quite strong on his mother’s side and I think us finding out about his eligibility actually came from his side.

“We just made sure we made him feel welcome, like we do with any new players coming in, because we had that right environment.

“He was a true match-winner, he could change games. He could play anywhere across the front three.

“A lot of number 10s don’t always take it on the back foot and drive, but his touch and awareness meant he could, when he received the ball he had that awareness of who was around him, but could also attack you with that extreme pace. If you were level with him, you were dead.

“I can remember staff being at the dinner table in the evening and the staff just all saying ‘wow’ together because we could all see it.”

When he was still a teenager, Johnson’s footballing education took him on loan to League One with Lincoln City during the 2020-21 season, where he scored 13 goals in 48 appearances.

“It’s one thing having pace, but it is another thing knowing how to use it,” Michael Appleton, Lincoln’s head coach at the time, told the Guardian.

“When Brennan gets the ball, he always looks to turn and get forward. He never really passes up responsibility.

“A lot of young players now want everything to feet – not enough are prepared to run in behind, but Brennan was prepared to do that, which I liked.

“I think I played Brennan in six positions. He just got on with it and was very comfortable.

“I think he will naturally end up as more of a number nine because he is prepared to run without the ball and, if he does that in more central areas, he will probably get even more goals.”

Pace, versatility and an eye for goal

A first full season of regular senior football at Lincoln laid the foundation for Johnson to break into Forest’s first team and make himself a star.

The following campaign, he played in 46 Championship games and scored 16 goals – as well as another two in the play-offs – as Forest won promotion to the Premier League.

Johnson continued his ascent with eight goals and a number of eye-catching performances for Forest in the top flight last season, and that is when interest in him rocketed.

Brentford had already made several attempts to sign Johnson while he was in the Championship, and Forest rejected further offers – worth more than £30m – in the Premier League.

Atletico Madrid, Everton and Chelsea were all linked, but it was Tottenham who won the race for Johnson’s signature, paying in excess of £45m on transfer deadline day on 1 September.

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou played a prominent role in negotiations, having identified Johnson as an ideal fit for his free-flowing, attacking style of play.

“He’s an exciting young player. He’s a real threat in the front third and he’s a bit different to what we’ve already got. He’s young, ambitious,” Postecoglou said.

“It’s no secret that that’s been the model for me, not just here, but wherever I’ve gone. It’s just as much about the person you’re bringing in as the footballer.

“Looking at him, he’s going to fit in really well with this group because he’s really ambitious and hungry and he wants to take his game to another level. The technical and the physical attributes he has, I think he should fit in really well with us.”

One of Johnson’s key attributes is his pace. He was the second fastest player in the Premier League last season with a record speed of 36.7km/h, and he is a potent runner with the ball at his feet.

As his previous coaches have noted, he is versatile too. He can play as a central striker or on either flank, cutting in from the left on to his stronger right foot or as a more traditional right-sided forward.

He is not a direct replacement for Kane, but rather a part of a collective Spurs effort – alongside the likes of Son Heung-min, Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski – to fill the void left by the England captain’s move to Bayern Munich.

And while Johnson’s scoring record is not at Kane’s prodigious levels, he has shown with Forest, Lincoln and Wales’ age-grade teams that he has a finisher’s instinct.

“He’s proved in the Premier League that he can score goals and can win games for his team,” Williams, his Wales and former Forest team-mate, says.

“Now, he’s got the big move, his confidence has gone to the next level, and hopefully he can take that with him into this Wales camp. Hopefully, he can win us some games.”

When Wales players talk about Johnson, you sense how important a figure he is for their team, how he might be the beacon for their bright future.

In a post-Bale landscape, Welsh football will cling to any reason for optimism it can.

Johnson only has two goals from his 21 senior appearances to date, but he has shown enough in those games to suggest there are plenty more to come.

Nobody expects him to emulate Bale’s otherworldly feats but, like the legendary former Real Madrid forward did a decade ago, Johnson embodies a team’s potential.

“Brennan is not Gareth Bale or Harry Kane. He’s his own player and he has got his own style,” says Williams.

“He wouldn’t want to be compared to them or be seen as their replacements to step in. As long as he focuses on himself hopefully he has got the potential to reach their level.”

Bale and Kane cannot truly be replaced but, in Johnson, Wales and Spurs at least have a player who offers hope for life after those greats.

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