BY ALAN TEMPLE in TÓRSHAVN – @CCP_Sport
HIBERNIAN head coach Neil Lennon has labelled Celtic captain Scott Brown ‘presumptuous’ for lavishing praise on John McGinn and positing that the combative midfielder would thrive at Parkhead.
Brown was candid when asked about the Hoops’ ongoing pursuit of McGinn – a close friend and erstwhile international teammate – as he lauded the 23-year-old as ‘a top-quality player’ and as possessing ‘pretty much everything you need’.
He also hinted that McGinn could be his long-term successor at Celtic and joked about sending text messages urging him to make the move west.
Despite retaining a positive relationship dating back to their trophy-laden time together with the Bhoys, Lennon admits he would have preferred Brown to have kept his powder dry until any potential deal is done.
Hibs have already rejected two bids for McGinn, with the most recent coming in at £1.75m, and the capital club continue to hold out for closer to £4m.
“I think it’s a bit presumptuous from Scott [Brown],” said Lennon. “I’m aware that John [McGinn] is admired by a lot of people in the Scottish game, but it’s a bit early from that sort of talk.
“I would prefer it if – regardless of what club John may go to – the players at that club wait until he actually arrives. Then they can talk about him as much as they want.
“I think managers talking about players at other clubs is definitely breaking a code, but perhaps Scott was just asked a question and gave an honest answer. However, we as a club would prefer it if a deal was concluded before players talk like that.”
Reflecting on reports that McGinn had informed the Hibs hierarchy that Celtic was his preferred option, Lennon added: “You would need to ask John – judging by his background, it would be hard to argue against that
“However, there is still a long way to go before anything is finalised. There are other suitors out there, albeit they haven’t come in with concrete bids yet.”
A few eyebrows may be raised in Glasgow’s East End should McGinn’s name, as expected, appear on the team-sheet against NSI on Thursday night. But in the sleepy village of Toftir, Lennon will be suitably unmoved.
McGinn will find himself ineligible for Celtic’s Champions League qualification campaign – should a deal be struck to take the Scotland internationalist west – if he takes the field in the Faroe Islands tonight, albeit he would be available for the group stage.
Boasting a 6-1 lead from the first leg against NSI seven days ago, Hibs will take their place in the second qualifying round where they will face Asteras Tripolis, and Lennon has no doubt he will require his best players to navigate that tie and move a step closer to the promised land of the group phase.
“It’s not my problem if he is cup-tied for the Champions League qualifiers, it’s just not,” said Lennon. “I need to do what’s best for my team. We want to progress in this tournament and, to do that, we will need to beat a very good Greek team and I’ll need my best players.
“He’ll play as it stands. He needs to play. If we negotiate this tie then we have a really tough one in the next round and we need our players up to speed and ready.
“It was difficult for John in the first few days but I think he’s over it now. He’s trained well in the last few days, is more relaxed and settled in himself.
Barring – in the words of Lennon – ‘a self-destruction of Titanic proportions’, Hibs will finish the job in the Faroes and swiftly turn their attention to Asteras Tripolis.
And Lennon has not given up on securing reinforcements ahead of that tie.
With Simon Murray on the cusp of joining South African side Bidwest Wits in a £150,000 deal, they are particularly light in attack, where Jamie Maclaren remains a prime target – albeit Lennon was coy on the prospect of the Aussie returning.
“We are looking,” continued Lennon. “We are a little bit short in attack. I think we have enough to negotiate this tie and, hopefully, move quickly to bring players in – not just at centre-forward.
“We have options to look at but there’s no sort of guarantees that any of these deals will be done. We are moving quietly in the background and there’s a couple of players we like.”
Lennon confirmed that former Kilmarnock midfielder Youssef Mulumbu, who has been liked with a move to Hibs, is a player he admires but that no move is imminent. Paul Hanlon, meanwhile, misses out with a virus.