Luton Town can announce that defender James Justin has agreed to join Premier League side Leicester City after the Hatters’ board accepted an undisclosed club record fee for the 21-year-old, payable over the forthcoming three years.
James has completed a medical at the King Power Stadium and has agreed terms with the 2015-16 Premier League champions, who finished ninth in the top flight last term with Brendan Rodgers taking over as manager midway through the campaign.
Stopsley schoolboy James joined the Hatters in 2005 as a seven-year-old, and after progressing through the youth ranks – winning the Aarau Masters as an U11 and the EFL Youth Alliance Cup at U18s, while also reaching the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals – he made his senior debut as a substitute against Exeter City on the final day of the 2015-16 League Two season.
A first start followed in the opening week of the following campaign with a man-of-the-match winning performance at left-back in the EFL Cup win over Aston Villa, a match screened live on Sky and therefore bringing him firmly into the national spotlight.
A tussle for his more familiar right-back role ensued with Stephen O’Donnell over the course of the Town’s League Two play-off season, with JJ – as he is known to all at the Kenny and throughout his home town – netting his first senior goal in the 4-1 win at Accrington in late April 2017.
Overall, the teenager made 39 appearances in his breakthrough season, all but six of them as a starter, and earned an England U19 call-up for the long squad selected for training camps ahead of the 2017 UEFA European Championships.
After signing a new three-year contract that summer, his international debut followed in August 2017 at U20 level, but the arrival of Jack Stacey limited his opportunities on the right of the Town back four.
JJ still made 22 league and cup appearances as the Town won promotion as League Two runners-up, and he gradually adapted to life in the third tier with appearances on both sides of the defence – as well as in the more advanced midfield role he first shone in as a junior player.
An injury to Dan Potts in mid-October brought James into the side at left-back. He went on to start every game and play a starring role in the club record 28-game unbeaten run and title success, scoring three times in 52 appearances.
JJ also won the EFL Young Player of the Month award for November and was named in both the PFA and EFL League One Team of the Season, while being nominated for EFL Young Player of the Season alongside two Championship players – Derby’s on-loan Liverpool midfielder Harry Wilson and Norwich’s former Hatters full-back Max Aarons, the eventual winner.
He was also chosen by Mick Harford and the coaching staff as the Town’s Young Player of the Season after completing his century of senior appearances, while also earning a place on the standby list for England U20s in the Toulon Tournament.
Having remained loyal to his boyhood club in January, steadfast in his belief that he would win promotion with his hometown team, we are sad to see JJ depart after 14 years, 114 senior games and six goals, but so proud of everything he has achieved with the Hatters.
On James’ departure, Hatters’ CEO Gary Sweet said, “It is with a bitter-sweet taste that we see JJ leave us but, not only does he fully deserve this wonderful opportunity, but it’s a great club to take his career forward with under an excellent manager who will continue to nurture him. On behalf of the board and staff we wish James well, but with the professionalism and manner he conducts himself with and talent and focus he has, he needs no luck. We look forward to seeing James back in Luton for the odd game when he will be warmly welcomed by all."
Everyone at Kenilworth Road sends James off wishing all the best for his future with the Foxes, champions of England just three years ago, and will be watching Leicester matches with a vested interest from now on.
We would like to thank James for not only his immense on-pitch contribution to the club’s rise up the EFL with the back-to-back promotions, but his fantastic attitude, exemplary conduct and 100 per cent commitment to the community in which he has grown up.
You’ve done the Town proud, JJ!