John McGinn has been hailed as irreplaceable by the man who is now charged with trying to fill the void left by the Scotland midfielder’s switch to Aston Villa.
McGinn, 22, rebuffed the late advances of Celtic and last night signed a four-year deal with the English Championship side.
The deal is thought to be worth close to £3 million and Lennon is hoping he will be allocated some of that in a bid to bolster a squad that had already been drained of midfield talent, due to the summer departure of Dylan McGeouch and the loss of loan players Scott Allan and Brandon Barker.
Hibs have already agreed loan deals with 21-year-old Manchester City winger Thomas Agyepong, and 22-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman from Bournemouth but, while he is happy to have them on board, Lennon has resigned himself to the fact there will be no like for like replacement for his former talisman.
“I can’t replace John,” he said. “If I was to replace him, I’d need to bring in a £20,000 a week player and I can’t do that.
“Instead, we will look to develop the players we have again, and find some others who will enhance us. But I’m not going to go out and say ‘you’re the next John McGinn’, because I’d need to spend £4m to do that.
“He is one of the best Hibs players in the last 25 or 30 years. He has won a massive trophy here, has been consistent, has become a Scotland international over the last 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. And he is getting better, not only domestically, but in European football.
“So I think he is right up there with your Browns, Riordans, Sauzees, who was slightly different as he came later on in his career after winning a Champions League. But, for what he has given the club, we need to put John in that bracket.”
Having batted away previous bids from Celtic, McGinn was granted permission to meet with the Villa Park side after they met the undisclosed asking price, and echoing Lennon’s sentiments chief executive Leeann Dempster said that the player left with the good wishes of everyone at the club. “John has been a fantastic servant to this club over the last three years,” she said. “He has developed as a player and an individual in his time here – it’s been a great environment for him and his list of achievements – winners’ medals, international caps and now his move to a club the size of Aston Villa – is
testament to that.”
With the side managed by Steve Bruce, pictured, chasing promotion to the English top flight, Lennon said they had landed a major asset in that battle, adamant that his former star man was already good enough to play at that level but he is hoping that Hibernian’s role in that development process will now aid him attract fresh talent.
“The club have been rewarded for having the foresight to bring him in and develop him and we are getting good money for an excellent player. You can’t stop progress – and I wouldn’t want to. The only satisfaction I get is for John but from a selfish point of view, there is a big void there. 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 have lost arguably our best player, but that happens in football.”
In a live interview on Villa’s YouTube channel, McGinn expressed his delight at the move.
“I’m proud to join a fantastic football club and I’m really looking forward to getting started,” he said. “It’s been a crazy few days and I’m just glad to get it done.
“I had the phone call on Monday night. I was wandering around the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and jumped on a flight and had a look about the place, met the manager and coaching staff and got a real good feeling about the place.
“I knew I would fit in, I knew this was the place I wanted to come. The one that got it for me was when I sat in the stand at Villa Park and I could picture myself playing there. It’s such a brilliant stadium and the fans are so passionate. It just felt right and I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.”
Hibs are still awaiting the outcome of a visa application for pacy Ghanaian Agyepong, who signed for City in 2015 but has spent much of the past few years on loan in Holland, but are hopeful that fellow newcomer Hyndman could feature in tonight’s Europa League qualifier against
The American, who joins on a six-month loan deal from Bournemouth, has experience of the Scottish game following a brief spell at Rangers at the start of 2017 but doing enough in his six-month spell to earn him the club’s Young Player of the Year award.
“We are pleased to bring in a player of Emerson’s quality,” added Lennon.
“Technically he’s at a good level, he’s got experience of the Scottish game and gives us another option in the
centre of midfield.”