COMMENT: Luton not ready to cash in on Justin
Luton Town deserve great credit for taking not taking the easy option and cashing in on young starlet James Justin.
The full back has been attracting plenty of interest recently from clubs higher up the echelon recently, with one, Nottingham Forest, putting their money where their mouth is and submitting a bid that reportedly topped seven figures.
It was rebuffed by the Hatters after discussions with the board, the player himself and his agent, meaning Justin, who is currently in Slovenia with the rest of his squad, is remaining at Kenilworth Road for now at least.
In a full and frank interview recently, Town chief executive Sweet revealed that although the Luton are in a position where they don’t actually need to sell players, everyone does have their price.
Although he is aware some of those price tags will be met, it appears that the time nor the fee, was quite right for Justin to fly the coop just yet.
He said: “If a player is developing more quickly than we are capable of as a football club, if the deal is right for us and actually that financial package ultimately will improve us, then that could be the right deal.
“I wouldn’t class us a selling club because we don’t actually have to sell, but if the deal is right, we would.”
This summer has been a prime example of that last point, with midfielder Cameron McGeehan moving on to Barnsley for an undisclosed amount.
However, in the midfielder’s case, at 22, he is three years Justin’s senior, and had already given almost three years service to the club in total after dropping out the Premier League with Norwich to join the Hatters.
Had Luton gone up, it might have been a different proposition, but they didn’t and it seemed only fair for McGeehan, who has only seen recently just how fragile a career can be with his leg break, be given the opportunity to test himself in the Championship.
With 2020 now holding the purse strings, then a sale such as McGeehan’s is a real lifeline for the club too as you only have to see how much they raked in from Andre Gray’s departure to Brentford to prove that.
Sweet’s declaration that nowadays Town will ‘negotiate the hell’ out of any transfer is all too evident, with Luton’s coffers boosted by the sum of around £2.5million in total from the striker’s eventual move to the Premier League with Burnley.
It will happen again as Sweet also said: “It’s important too, you have to have players leave you every so often and move up the chain.
“What we did with Andre is an example and what that does is, quite often when we see players come in and they’re thinking of joining Luton, one of the things they say is, ‘look at Andre. ‘I know if I progress really, really quickly, then you will let me go further up’.
“That’s important as that actually helps recruitment, and it helps us financially.”
Jack Marriott’s exit was slightly different, as Hatters weren’t actively looking to sell, but with the forward not featuring a great deal towards the back end of last term, and with James Collins already signed, plus the option of recruiting Elliot Lee, who at 22, is the same age as Marriott, then it made excellent financial sense.
With Justin, although the money would no doubt come in handy as Luton have recently invested heavily in the wonderful new training ground at the Brache, plus are intent on building a new stadium at Power Court, they will be determined to keep hold of a player who is clearly seen by fans as ‘one of their own’.
Here supporters can see a talent who who first joined the Hatters in 2005 and along with the likes of Frankie Musonda won the Aarau Masters as an U11, beating Bayern Munich in the final, while also helping the U18s to the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals too.
Boss Nathan Jones has taken steps to prepare for an offer which is just too good to turn down, with Jack Stacey arriving from Reading over the summer, but he will be determined to keep a player who showed last season just what an asset he is to the club.
After a fleeting cameo in the final game of the 2015-16 campaign, during the following pre-season it was noticeable just how much Justin had bulked up and already looked capable of handling the physicality of League Two.
Starting against Aston Villa, at left back, he gave a superb display in the televised EFL Cup victory, with England U19 manager Keith Downing just one of the onlookers who left knowing he clearly had a bright future ahead of him.
Justin had to wait until the Checkatrade Trophy game against Gillingham a fortnight later for his next start, and then made his full league debut in the high profile home clash against Doncaster Rovers on September 24, where Town triumphed 3-1.
Such was the impression he made, Hattesr chief Jones soon realised he couldn’t hold back his progress any more, as Justin quickly became first choice ahead of Stephen O’Donnell.
He went on to play 39 times in total for the club, an outstanding achievement for someone so young and even showed he could be a goal threat as well, scoring against Accrington, and setting up two in the play-offs against Blackpool.
That saw the England U19s come calling as well, with Justin one of only two players from outside the Championship who were called up for the Young Lions training camp ahead of Euro Championship Finals.
Although he didn’t make the final cut, the very fact was in there ahead of Premier League players should be lauded as another superb achievement.
It doesn’t look like Justin will let this latest speculation affect him either as off the pitch he comes across as a very level-headed youngster, always polite and happy to chat with the press and happy to focus solely on his own game.
Sweet knows that they might not be able to fight off the next club who put their hat in the ring to acquire Justin, as he said: “We take a line that if they’re really young, they’re not for sale.
“If he’s developing so rapidly that we can’t really hold him back and there’s a Premier League club that comes in for him, then we’ll have sit down with them and maybe have a conversation about it.
“But lets wait until another summer and hopefully it’s not the next one as if we get promoted next season then it’s natural progression for him and others.”
With Luton reluctant to sell and Jones putting a squad together that is sure to seriously challenge for one of the top three automatic spots, then Town fans will be hoping they see ‘one of their own’ in a Hatters shirt for a little while longer.