Neil Lennon has accepted that losing both John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch has left a “big void” in his Hibs side, but he revealed moves are already underway to bring new players in.
McGeouch joined Sunderland when his contract expired at the end of last season and now McGinn, described by Lennon as “the heartbeat” of his team, has joined Aston Villa.
He conceded the only way he could find a direct replacement for the 23-year-old would be to spend £4 million himself plus a weekly wage of £20,000, going on to claim that McGinn had been one of Hibs’ best players in the past 25 or 30 years – and is only going to get better.
The Hibs boss said: “John won a massive trophy here, has been consistent, is a Scotland international over the past couple of years, even when he was in the Championship. That takes some doing.
“He was one of the outstanding players in the country last year while at a team outside the big two. He is only going to get better, not only domestically, but in European football.
“So I think he is right up there with any of them, your Browns, Riordans, Sauzees – albeit it was slightly different with him as he came later on in his career after winning the Champions League. For what he has given the club, we need to put him in that bracket.”
Having consistently rebuffed offers from Celtic, the third of which amounted to just £2m, Hibs’ hardline stance has been rewarded with McGinn spending the past couple of days in Birmingham speaking to Villa manager Steve Bruce.
However, revealing McGinn had indicated that playing in England was an option for him, Lennon said: “Ultimately it came down to the player. He’s been down at Aston Villa completing a medical and Celtic have matched the offer.
“Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct and whatever feels right. He obviously has the family ties with Celtic, but there is also a big world out there for him and a different culture and a footballing experience.
“There’s no question he’s good enough to play in the English Premier League. I think he is good enough to play there now.
“If Villa get promoted then I think he’ll be very comfortable in that environment. He’s lucky in the respect that he’s wanted by two very big clubs with two highly respected managers.”
Asked if he believed he’d be given a slice of the McGinn fee – bearing in mind St Mirren are due a 33 per cent cut – Lennon revealed that would probably be a discussion he would have with Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster. He did, however, admit that the challenge was now to ensure the recent success by the club continues.
He said: “The club have been rewarded for having the foresight to bring him in and develop him. We are getting good money for an excellent player. You can’t stop progress, and I wouldn’t want to.
“I’m happy in a way. From a selfish point of view, there’s a big void there but 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 as we lose arguably our best player, but that happens in football.
“We are looking at players to add to the squad. We’ve spent some money on Stevie Mallan and Flo Kamberi but we are bringing in a lot of money from John, a bit of cash from the Jason Cummings deal last year and a fee for Simon Murray.
“So we are in good health financially and we want to add to the squad after losing McGeouch and, likely, McGinn.”
Lennon had many heart-to-heart chats with McGinn as the speculation swirled around him in recent weeks, but he believes the player handled the stresses and strains of the situation superbly.
“It was difficult for him initially,” said Lennon, “But the longer it went on the more comfortable he was with things. I had a good chat with him because I went through the same thing myself and I said, ‘don’t make the same mistakes I did’.
“He was worried about how I’d react to it, whether I was going to leave him out of the team. That wasn’t going to be the case. We tried to manage the situation as best we could for the club and for John because he’s earned that.
“He’s handled the whole thing positively, that’s good. He’s been exemplary and we have nothing bad to say about the kid. He is a player who can do everything.”