The future of Hibs midfielder John McGinn is set to be the transfer saga of the summer with Celtic already having had two bids for the player rejected.
The Leith side rejected Celtic’s follow up offer of £2 million on Wednesday and will steel themselves for more offers for the player, both from the east end of Glasgow and elsewhere. However, it is Celtic who appear to have the most interest in the Scotland international.
But how much sense does the transfer make for all parties?
John McGinn is the prototype Celtic signing, a young player who possesses bags of potential with the added bonus of being Scottish and well-versed in the ways of football in the country. A look at Celtic’s transfer history since 2015 shows a familiar theme, the recruitment of young talent who have impressed in Scotland.
Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, Nadir Ciftci, Scott Allan, Jack Hendry and Lewis Morgan have all arrived in the last three and a half years. Some have flopped, some have thrived, while the jury is out on others. But the addition of McGinn would see a continuation of that policy.
Brendan Rodgers has numerous options available to him in the centre of the pitch with Scott Brown, Olivier Ntcham, Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic key individuals. Behind them are Allan, Eboue Kouassi, Nir Bitton and Christie who is capable of playing centrally. The latter quartet have question marks over their future, while there is no one who can quite bring the qualities of the departed Stuart Armstrong to the team.
McGinn is not too dissimilar to his Scotland colleague. He is a No.8 who is at his best using his pace and power to drive forward. They do so in a different manner but they can break the lines, with and without the ball. A midfield featuring three of Rogic, McGregor, Brown and Ntcham is of high-quality and very good at keeping possession and probing.
Yet, when a team has as much territory and possession as Celtic, sometimes an element of chaos is required. That is what McGinn can bring to a midfield. The way he spins and careers around the pitch in his unique style is anarchic, but the juxtaposition is that he does so with control. His passing and dribbling stats were largely superior to Armstrong last season, especially when it came to getting into the final third.
Armstrong was sold for £7 million, while it is believed Hibs want around £3 million for McGinn who is in the final year of his contract. There is reason to reinvest a large chunk of the Armstrong money into the Hibs midfielder. He could follow Celtic captain Brown in forging a long career at Celtic Park or, if his development continues, he could be sold for a significant profit.
The 23-year-old made up for lost time spent in the Championship by taking the Ladbrokes Premiership by storm last season. He took his game to the next level as Hibs impressed on their return to top-flight.
His all-action performances stood out for many watching on, alongside Allan and Dylan McGeouch. As previously mentioned he was heavily involved in Hibs’ attacks, featuring high in a number of the advanced stats, from leading the league in through passes and passes to the final third to suffering the most fouls but picking up the most yellow cards as well.
McGinn is in a strong position. With a year left on his contract he is at a club and in a dressing room where he is comfortable and valued, while Hibs would be delighted to keep him for another year. If he then leaves on a free contract there will likely be numerous clubs showing a strong interest, including those put off by Hibs’ valuation of the player.
But that in itself is a risk. He could suffer a drastic downturn in form or worse, a serious injury, which would deter potential suitors.
At this moment in time his stock is high. But perhaps not high enough to earn a move direct to the Premier League where teams are still sniffy about signing players from the Scottish top tier.
This is where Celtic come in. As seen with Armstrong, Virgil van Dijk and those before, the club act as a launchpad for players to the Premier League.
While McGinn could give it another year at Hibs and see what happens if he follows up a good season with a great season, he could go to Celtic and put together two progressive campaigns. Impressing over 24 months in the Celtic midfield, gaining European experience would see his stock rise.
Hibs don’t want to lose a key cog in their midfield, especially with Dylan McGeouch having already left for League One Sunderland. Losing both players would require Neil Lennon and the club’s head of football operations George Craig to produce some serious work in the transfer window, finding the gems they have done previously. The club would arguably need three midfielders to arrive.
Yet, any club in Scotland has to be realistic when it comes to sizeable offers. A bid of £2 million for a player with 12 months to run on his contract is attractive but it shows the club’s standing that they can turn it down as they hold out for something they believe is more suitable, especially as St Mirren are due a sizeable cut of the fee.
The concern is that it begins to overshadow or even affect the club’s preparation for the coming season, not forgetting their Europa League involvement.
In their ranks, Celtic have players they could use to tempt Hibs with and sweeten the deal. Scott Allan would be an attractive proposition considering how impressive he has been in the green of Hibs. While someone like Michael Johnston would be an intriguing prospect. The winger impressed for Scotland at the Toulon Tournament earlier in the summer and would be a replacement for Brandon Barker who was on loan last season.
It would understandable to conclude that Hibs would be the major losers in any deal. Yet, if they can extract around £3 million from Celtic, plus a player or two they could quickly be seen as winners.