BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON insists ‘irreplaceable’ John McGinn is comparable with Scott Brown and Franck Sauzee – as he hailed the Scotland international as one of the finest players to have represented Hibs in the last 30 years.
Life after McGinn will begin for the Hibees when Molde visit Easter Road on Europa League duty on Thursday night after the combative midfielder completed a £2.75m switch to Aston Villa.
Despite losing the services of a pivotal performer in recent campaigns, Lennon was visibly delighted to see McGinn seal a move to one of the sleeping giants of English football following a summer of uncertainty for the player.
And Lennon has no doubt that McGinn’s legacy – a historic Scottish Cup triumph in 2016, a Championship title and nine Scotland caps while representing the club – has earned him a place among some esteemable Hibs heroes.
“He is one of the best Hibs players in the last 25 or 30 years. For what he has given the club, we need to put him in that bracket,” lauded Lennon.
“He has won a massive trophy [Scottish Cup], is a Scotland international and was one of the outstanding players in the country last year while at a team outside the big two. He is getting better, not only domestically, but in European football.
“So I think he is right up there with any of them – your Browns, [Derek] Riordans, Sauzees, albeit it was slightly different with Franck as he came later on in his career after winning a Champions League.
“There’s no question that he’s good enough to play in the English Premier League – he’s good enough to play there now and if he goes to Villa and they get promoted then I think he’ll be very comfortable in that environment.”
The comparison with Celtic skipper Brown is particularly fitting, given the Hoops’ close-season pursuit of the former St Mirren youngster.
“Browny was a machine at that age – his running power and quality on the ball was exceptional and he could score goals,” recalled Lennon. “He was a strong personality as a young player too. John might not be as gallus, but he can be a sarky little git when he wants to be!
“Certainly his all-round game is right up there. Watching him the last couple of weeks, with the way he has developed physically and in terms of his football, vision and goalscoring, you are getting a player who can do everything.”
Lennon’s gushing appraisal of McGinn only serves to underline the onerous task faced by Hibs in filling the gap left by his departure.
They moved swiftly to seal the signing of Emerson Hyndman on loan from Bournemouth until January last night and shelled out £200,000 to bring Stevie Mallan to the club, however with Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan having also exited, further reinforcements will be a necessity.
“I can’t replace John. I’d need to bring in a £20,000 a week player and I can’t do that,” said Lennon. “I’m not going to go out and say ‘you’re the next John McGinn’, because I’d need to spend £4 million to do that.
“The challenge is for me to motivate the players and say ‘who’s next?’ and ‘can you play without John McGinn?’ We are weaker, there’s no question about that, but that happens in football.
“We are in good health financially and we want to add to the squad after losing [Dylan] McGeouch and, likely, McGinn – that is a big void as they were brilliant for us last year.”
McGinn has been pivotal in Hibs reaching the third qualifying round of the Europa League, scoring against NSI Runavik and, crucially, notching the goal in Greece that ultimately ensured the capital club saw off Asteras Tripolis.
However, Lennon will need to summon up a masterplan to get the better of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde without him.
“In terms of all the hype and with Celtic being involved, the situation with John McGinn has dominated the landscape, but this is a huge game for us,” added Lennon, who confirmed that goalkeeper Adam Bogdan and Darren McGregor are injury doubts. “It’s the biggest European game we’ve had in a long long time.
“Molde are a good counter-attacking team, they’ve got good players in midfield and, in [Erling] Haland, they’ve got a player who’s burst on to the scene and has shown he can score goals.
“They are very good outfit in the way they play the game, but they’re beatable – even if we’re hampered by the loss of a very important player.”