Hibs fans are still mourning the loss of John McGinn to Aston Villa, Joel Sked looks at how the club can replace such an influential figure.
Hibs fans could have been forgiven for a moment of reflection on Wednesday evening and the hours which followed after it was confirmed that John McGinn was officially an Aston Villa player.
The testimonies, memories and messages which poured in across social media following the announcement are testament to the lasting John McGinn effect.
‘Legend’, ‘class’, ‘special’, ‘winner’ were just some of the superlatives used to describe the 23-year-old. The reaction has been relatively unique in that there has been little to no bitterness or anger. There has been a genuine feeling of warmth towards McGinn.
Lennon put him into the category of Scott Brown, Derek Riordan and Franck Sauzee.
It is easy to see why. McGinn has been a transformative figure at Easter Road, the poster boy of their renaissance, first under former boss Alan Stubbs then under Lennon. From Scottish Cup success to a top tier return to qualifying for Europe. And he has done so in his own swashbuckling style.
But how can you replace a player like John McGinn?
The short answer is that you can’t. Those rare gifts, those unmistakable qualities. The way he transitions from defence to attack with burrowing runs; the delicate clip passes over the top of the opposition defence, like Tiger Woods in his pomp around the greens at St Andrews. The way he uses his rear to bounce from challenge-to-challenge as if in a pinball machine.
No one can replicate that in the Hibs midfield.
Emerson Hyndman has been brought in on loan from Bournemouth and while he plays in the same No.8 position as McGinn, they interpret the roles differently. Stephen Mallan has also arrived but he is a No.10 and perhaps lacks the necessary dynamism to fill the McGinn hole.
Hibs will hope that Vykintas Slivka translates his promise into a consistent run. He has provided moments of magic in the final third, while offering enough encouragement in terms of work rate and his ability to cover ground.
Marvin Bartley does a specific job at the base of the midfield well, while much more is required of Steven Whittaker.
Lennon and the head of football operations George Craig have proven themselves in the transfer market. They will likely have something up their sleeves. Not only an ace but possibly a King, Queen and Jack as well.
“We are weaker, there’s no question about that as we lose arguably our best player, but that happens in football,” Lennon said. “We are looking at players to add to the squad... we are in good health financially and we want to add to the squad.”
While Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes is reluctant to enter the foreign market, Hibs have proven themselves astute at unearthing a gem or three. Yet, they still very much have their finger on the pulse of the domestic market.
There are players currently playing in the Ladbrokes Premiership who could be of interest to Lennon. None will be able to walk through the doors of Easter Road and immediately have Hibs fans asking “John who?!”, but there are those who will help fill a void.
The first place to look may be McGinn’s old haunting ground, St Mirren. Kyle Magennis was given a prominent place in the Buddies midfield by former boss Jack Ross at just 18 as they fought against relegation from the Championship in the 2016/2017 season.
He was given a berth because of his energy and would forge an important role in the club’s midfield. On signing a new St Mirren contract, Ross said of the player: “The way he drives with the ball from midfield is one of his biggest assets. A lot of young midfielders pass, they don’t drive with the ball.”
Ross could easily have been speaking about McGinn.
In Glenn Kamara, Dundee have an international footballer who has shown himself capable of dominating Scottish Premiership midfields. He is one player who rivalled McGinn last season at turning defence into attack with evasive dribbling. The Finn had the third best dribbling success rate in the league.
The former Arsenal youngster is Dundee’s most valuable player key to helping the team build play, taking the ball under pressure. However, unlike McGinn, he tends to get a nosebleed as soon as he approaches the opposition final third.
Motherwell will be looking at Chris Cadden and Allan Campbell with CEO Alan Burrows and the club’s board seeing money signs flashing in front of their eyes.
Cadden is a player who a similar physical build to McGinn and the power which comes with it. Arguably his best position is as a No.8 but his progress has not been as upwardly as some would expect, having been shifted around the pitch, from wing-back to a No.10.
He has yet to demonstrate he has the relevant technical ability and consistency to match McGinn but would certainly be an interesting player to develop.
The Steelmen’s main asset is Campbell. Diminutive, combative, tenacious and a good football player to boot. The 20-year-old’s ‘dirty work’ for Scotland’s U21s was praised at the Toulon Tournament earlier in the summer. It may be his no nonsense approach to midfield battles which makes him stand-out but he is a much better footballer than many think.
He is far from the finished article but a player who could be shaped into a player in the John McGinn mould. In a 2-2 draw with Rangers last season he displayed his attacking instincts and ability to perform a box-to-box role with and without the ball.
Another player who starred alongside Campbell at the Toulon Tournament in France was Kilmarnock’s Iain Wilson. He possesses a completely different style McGinn. More languid, he supports the play rather than dominating it.
Hibs’ transfer policy has been shrewd in recent years, bringing in players who have sell-on value. Yet sometimes, when an opportunity presents itself, pushing the boat out for a more experienced campaigner is necessary. Former Kilmarnock midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu is one player who did get the better of McGinn at points last season and he is still without a contract.
On top of that he would be a statement signing.
Lennon may have other ideas as to how to invest any money which he receives. He could move away from the 3-5-2 which has served the team so well or simply recruit players to improve on other areas, such as Dunfermline’s Ryan Williamson who has been linked with a move to Easter Road for some time.
Yet, with Maclaren and Kamberi it would make sense to stay with a system which allows the duo to carry on their fine partnership from last season.
They will have to do so without the ammunition of John McGinn, however. He can’t be replaced but it shouldn’t stop Hibs from building for a positive future.
Join our Facebook group Our Edinburgh to share images and news from and around the Capital