DAVID VAN ZANTEN today urged Hibs fans not to see new arrival John McGinn as a direct replacement for the departing Scott Allan, insisting: “They are entirely different players.”
But that said, the ex-Easter Road defender predicted a huge future for his former St Mirren team-mate, who he has watched blossom from a raw teenager into one of Scotland’s hottest young midfield talents.
Van Zanten, who spent 18 months with the Capital club, was at McGinn’s side from the day he made his Buddies’ debut to the unforgettable afternoon when they defeated Hearts to lift the League Cup.
And having taken a close interest in the youngster’s progress – revealing he’d spoken to him before he put pen to paper on a four year deal with Hibs and again since – Van Zanten is in no doubt Alan Stubbs has pulled off a coup in signing McGinn in the face of intense competition from Premiership outfits.
The Hibs head coach did likewise this time last year, surprising everyone with the capture of the highly-rated Allan, pictured below, who had slipped off the radar somewhat after a move south had turned sour, the former Dundee United and West Brom player’s career rejuvenated to the point where Rangers had launched a much publicised chase for the boyhood Ibrox fan.
Hibs, however, played hard ball, adamant they wouldn’t sell to what they saw as one of their biggest challengers for the Championship title, rejecting three bids from Govan and ignoring Allan’s written transfer request only for Rangers to be gazumped by their Old Firm rivals who offered cash and, it is believed, Dylan McGeouch and, on a season-long loan, Liam Henderson in return.
But while not alone in being taken by surprise at the dramatic turn of events, Van Zanten, who was at Celtic Park himself as a teenager, believes the final outcome will prove to be a happy ending for a saga which has overshadowed Hibs start to the season.
The 33-year-old, who is now at Airdrie, told the Evening News: “I think it’s a great bit of business for all parties involved – apart from Rangers, who were desperate to get Scott Allan.
“Although Hibs are losing one of their top players, they are also moving on a player who wanted to leave, which can only be a good think and the fact they’ve done so without him going to one of their main rivals for the league title will be seen as good thing by their fans.”
Van Zanten accepted, though, that Allan’s departure would put McGinn under even more scrutiny if, as expected, he makes his home debut against Morton today.
He said: “I’d imagine there will be a lot of expectation on John now, with Hibs fans looking on him as a direct replacement for Scott Allan, but it would probably be unfair to put that responsibility on his shoulders because they are two different types of midfield player.
“From what I have seen, Scott is more an attacking player than John. He likes to be playing in the final third, making chances. John is more a box-to-box player. He’s got a lot of attributes to his game, but he is different. John is an excellent player. He’s progressed so much, although last season was difficult for him with St Mirren fighting relegation.
“But when I played with him, you could see what a talent he was going to be and there’s no doubt with the attitude he has he’s going to be an excellent signing for Hibs. I spoke to John before he made the move and again since and I know he is very excited by it and is determined to be as big a success as he can and as an older player, when he was coming through, it’s nice to think that you perhaps helped him along the way.
“When John made the breakthrough at St Mirren, he hit the ground running. He made an immediate impact, he had a lot of confidence and he was a vital part of the team that won the League Cup a couple of years ago. He was absolutely outstanding in the semi-final against Celtic and again in the final against Hearts.
“It was testament to him that he did so being such a young player. People tend to forget that even now he is only 20, but he’s built up a lot of experience playing in the Premiership where Hibs should not only be but be near the top of it.”
Some may have questioned Scotland Under-21 cap McGinn’s ambition in spurning offers from the top flight in favour of Easter Road at this particular time, but Van Zanten has no doubts he’s made the right choice.
He said: “Hibs are a massive club. I know from my own experience of moving there. You don’t realise just how big until you’ve made the move and John has said the same thing to me. I speak to him on a fairly regular basis and he said he was amazed at just how big Hibs are.
“And at East Mains, the training facilities are second-to-none. They’d just come opened when I joined Hibs and now the stadium is one of the best in Scotland, somewhere any player would be happy to be playing.”
Stubbs believes McGinn has already given Hibs fans a glimpse of his potential, the player getting half-an-hour at the end of the opening day defeat by Dumbarton following his six-figure move.
It was McGinn’s first taste of action since that bizarre training ground accident in which he was “speared” by a pole thrown by Buddie’s skipper Steven Thompson, the injury he picked up as a result bringing last season to a premature end for him.
However, revealing there was “a possibility” McGinn will be involved from the start against Morton today, Stubbs said: “I thought he came on last week and looked very positive. He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. You could see he has a bit about him.
“It would have been easy for him to just ease himself into the game, but straight away he wanted to get on the ball, to make passes. He was positive, confident and has some really nice touches. He just has a presence about him and that’s the type of player that I want to make the group better.
“That’s why we spent a considerable amount of time and money in trying to get his services.”