By Graham Thomas
Brennan Johnson is hoping for success with Wales in vital World Cup qualifiers over the next few days – and another well done message from David Beckham.
The 20-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder has already received a clutch of congratulatory texts from England legend Beckham for his achievements at club level.
Now, Johnson is hoping a first start for Wales in the friendly against Finland on Wednesday night – a match that is live on S4C – could prompt more virtual pats on the back over the next few days.
Johnson’s link with Beckham is through the Welsh youngster’s father, David, a former Forest and Ipswich striker who also came close to caps with Wales.
Beckham and Johnson senior were together at Manchester United in the early stages of their careers and Johnson junior says: “They knew each other from academy days and they kept in touch.
“My dad has got a few friends who have stayed close to David Beckham and so he’s kept in touch.
“It’s not quite a text every day from him, but I did have a message from him after the play-off game at the end of last season.”
That match for Johnson was in the colours of Lincoln City, where a successful loan spell ended with an appearance at Wembley in the League One play-off final.
The match ended in a 2-1 defeat to Blackpool, but Johnson had already done enough in his loan spell to earn his first two caps for Wales in substitute appearances in the friendlies against the USA and Mexico.
His talent has been evident this season, too, with a goal for Forest last weekend rescuing a point in their clash against local rivals Derby County.
“That goal was really special. I grew up watching those games, so it was really nice to get a goal. We needed it too, it was a big goal.
“Last year was definitely what I needed, going out on and playing games. This year in the Championship, hopefully I can kick on again and do well.
“It’s better for me if I’m playing in the Championship if I am going to get more minutes for Wales.”
The trip to Helsinki will be Wales’ first match since their Euro 2020 finals campaign ended with defeat to Denmark in the last 16 in Amsterdam.
The focus for Wales caretaker manager Robert Page is on preparation for the two vital World Cup qualifiers that follow.
Wales will remain in Helsinki in readiness for Sunday’s crunch match against Belarus in the Russian city of Kazan, before their home qualifier against Estonia at the Cardiff City Stadium the following Wednesday.
Injuries and visa problems have denied Page of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Rodon, David Brooks, Neco Williams, George Thomas, Ethan Ampadu, Tyler Roberts and Brandon Cooper for the Finland and Belarus matches – meaning Johnson’s time as a Wales starter may well be dawning.
“There’s a big opportunity for quite a few players, especially in that Finland game,” adds Johnson, who could form part of the new breed in Welsh colours along with fellow youngsters Rodon, Williams, Dylan Levitt and Rubin Colwill.
“That would maybe be the players that wouldn’t be in the qualifiers, but with the absentees it’s a good chance for some players to get in that World Cup qualifying team.
“There has been a good core of younger players in this group who have been it around it for a while and taking everything in, so when the chance comes it’s up to us to take it with two hands.
“It is a massive dream of mine. Everyone wants to play in a World Cup. When it comes around, there is so much excitement that goes with it.
“If we were to qualify it would be unbelievable. We are all going to give it 100 per cent and we believe we can do it and that we’ve got a good enough team to do it.”
Page – who remains in charge while Ryan Giggs is absent – may have been left infuriated by the visa problems, but he is adamant that the Welsh youngster flying out to Finland are ready to answer their country’s call.
“We’ve done quite a bit in the last two last two years when I was Under-21s manager,” says Page.
Brennan Johnson to the rescue! 🦸
🗣 “A moment the Derby goalkeeper will want to forget”
Nottingham Forest get back on level terms with just a few minutes left to play in the East Midlands Derby 👀
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) August 28, 2021
“When Ryan first came in the conversation was what we’ve got in the Under-21s – who needs developing and who needs pushing and we did quite a few straight away.
“It was a big group of players who jumped up to the senior team and rightly so. We’ve had the rewards of that.
“If they’ve got potential they’ll come up to the first team but we can’t do too many too quickly. But if they’re good enough, like Rubin Colwill, then of course we’ll do it.”
Finland were 1-0 winners over Denmark at the Euro finals this summer, but went on to lose to Russia and Belgium before exiting at the group stages.
S4C: Wednesday – 4.30pm
Finland v Wales
With two crucial World Cup qualifiers coming up against Belarus and Estonia in the week ahead, Robert Page will take this opportunity to test his squad before picking his starting 11 for the trip to Kazan on Sunday. K/O 5.00.