Hibs boss Neil Lennon has told Scott Brown to save talking about how good John McGinn is until, if and when, he becomes a Celtic player.
The Hoops skipper has lavished praise on the Scotland midfielder, insisting that following the path he took more than a decade ago would be a “great move” for the 23-year-old.
Celtic have had two bids for the former St Mirren player knocked back by Hibs, the second being for £1.75m, a figure which the Capital club insist vastly under-values their prized asset.
Brown, who switched to Celtic for £4.51m, insisted Hibs are perfectly right to seek the best possible money they can for a player who is in the last year of his contract, but he also revealed he’s been in regular contact with McGinn, a close friend, in recent weeks. While adamant it is up to the clubs to strike a deal, Brown believes McGinn would flourish under Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, saying: “The manager here makes everyone a better player. He’s been around top-quality players for most of his career so you are always going to learn from him.”
But, revealing McGinn will play in tonight’s Europa League match against NSI Runavik in the Faroe Islands, Lennon insisted Brown had been “presumptuous” in what he’d had to say.
He said: “I don’t know the context of the interview and the atmosphere of the interview, and I’m aware that John is admired by a lot of people in the Scottish game, but it’s a bit early for 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.”
Lennon conceded that with his background – his grandfather Jack was once Celtic chairman – the Glasgow side may be McGinn’s own preferred destination although English clubs have contacted Hibs regarding his situation.
“There are other suitors out there but the only concrete offers we have had came from Celtic. You would need to ask John if his preferred choice is Celtic. However, there is still a long way to go before anything is finalised.”
McGinn watched from the stand last week as his team-mates trounced the part-timers from the Faroes 6-1 to essentially clinch their place in the second qualifying round of the Europa League against Greek side Asteras Tripolis.
The reason given was a “dead leg” which had required heavy strapping although Lennon also conceded the transfer speculation had been a distraction saying: “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.
“He’ll play tonight 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.”
An appearance by McGinn would mean he would be cup-tied for Celtic’s Champions League qualifiers if a deal was to be struck any time soon, a scenario which Lennon insisted didn’t bother him.
He said: It’s not my problem, it’s just not. 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.”