Neil Lennon has confirmed his first signing ahead of next season’s Premiership campaign as he seeks to begin proving his contentious view that Hibs are the second-best team in the country.
While Danny Swanson’s move from St Johnstone on a pre-contract deal has been well documented, it was only yesterday, when the player himself released a statement to explain why he had signed for his boyhood heroes, that the Easter Road club felt able to comment.
Lennon welcomed the imminent arrival of Swanson, who has underlined his commitment to St Johnstone in their next five games as they seek to secure a European spot.
But the former Hearts player will then swap blue and white for the green and white of the team he supported as a boy. “The pull,” the winger stressed, “was too much.”
Lennon acknowledged the benefit of signing someone with such a strong link to the club but stressed this was far from the only reason why he wanted to recruit Swanson.
“I like him,” said Lennon. “He has had a great season with St Johnstone. Whenever I have watched him, for me he has been St Johnston’e best player. He has creativity, he has goals in him. He is a Hibs boy, which is not important but it does help.
When I look at the players I have here, the likes of (Darren) McGregor, (Paul) Hanlon, (Jordon) Forster, Louis (Lewis Stevenson), they get the club. Sometimes it puts a wee bit extra pressure on them for family reasons but it is good he understands the culture of the club almost immediately.”
Swanson, who was recently suspended by his club after being red carded for an on-field clash with team-mate Richard Foster, has thanked the Perth club’s manager Tommy Wright for helping him “flourish”.
He said: “The opportunity to sign for Hibernian FC was one I couldn’t resist. I’m an Edinburgh boy and grew up supporting the Hibees. It’s always been an ambition of mine to play for the club and I am looking forward to this new challenge and to help achieve their goals back in the SPFL Premiership.
“The decision to leave St Johnstone has been a difficult one for me,” he added. “I’ve felt settled at the Saints and really enjoyed my football, and my period at the club has been the most enjoyable, satisfying time of my career. So, it goes without saying, my decision to leave McDiarmid Park was not taken lightly. However, the pull of Hibernian was too much for me.
“I would like to thank my team-mates, the staff and the supporters at St Johnstone for making me feel very welcome. It’s a fine football club with good values.
“I also want to thank the manager, Tommy Wright, who has supported me in so many ways, on and off the field. His trust in me on the football park allowed me to flourish. The way he treated me like an adult off the park also helped me to mature and develop as a person.”
Swanson won’t be Hibs’ last signing but Lennon has stated he doesn’t expect an exodus from Easter Road ahead of next season.
Speaking before tonight’s home clash with Raith Rovers, Lennon revealed most out-of-contract players have been offered new deals.
“I’m not losing any sleep over it,” he said. “I think the majority of them will sign on.”
Grant Holt, who made such a impact after coming on against Aberdeen on Saturday, is an “isolated case”. The 36-year-old striker is open to signing on again but Lennon admitted there were still discussions pending between the two parties.
“He has other things to think about as well in terms of his next step and in terms of his coaching development as well,” said the manager. “I’d like him around but it might not be down to me.”
Lennon declined the chance to back down from his assertion, made in the aftermath of Saturday’s narrow semi-final defeat, that Hibs are the second-best side in the country. Indeed, he fleshed out this comment yesterday.
“That’s my opinion,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with it. The facts are that Aberdeen are (the second-best team). But from what I see, and what I saw on Saturday, if we had been in the Premiership this year, we would have been challenging for second place. We get the crowds, we have a good infrastructure.
“I think Rangers will be stronger next season,” he added.“To be fair to Derek (McInnes), he has done a fantastic job, probably everything that they could have been asked of him. But I look at the game in isolation, and it doesn’t faze me at all. We played better football.”