The Hibernian head coach Neil Lennon has labelled Scott Brown “presumptuous” and called on the Celtic captain to refrain from talking about how good John McGinn is.
Brown lavished praise on the Scotland midfielder, insisting that following the path he took more than a decade ago –from Hibs to Celtic – would be a “great move” for the 23-year-old.
Celtic have had two bids for the former St Mirren player knocked back by Hibs, the second worth £1.75 million, a figure which the capital club insist vastly under-values their prized asset.
Brown, who joined Celtic for £4.4m in 2007, insisted Hibs are perfectly right to seek the best possible money they can for a player who is in the final year of his contract, but he also revealed he has been in regular contact with McGinn, a close friend, in recent weeks. While adamant it is up to the clubs to strike a deal, Brown believes McGinn would flourish under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic.
“The manager here makes everyone a better player,” Brown said. “He’s been around top-quality players for most of his career so you are always going to learn from him.”
But, revealing McGinn will play in tonight’s Europa League match against NSI Runavik in the Faroe Islands, Lennon insisted Brown was premature.
“I don’t know the context of the interview and the atmosphere of the interview, and I’m aware that John is admired by a lot of people in the Scottish game, but it’s a bit early for that sort of talk,” the Hibs boss said. “I would prefer it if – regardless of what club John may go to – the players at that club wait until he actually arrives. Then they can talk about him as much as they want.
“I think managers talking about players at other clubs is definitely breaking a code, but perhaps Scott was just asked a question and gave an honest answer. However, we as a club would prefer it if a deal was concluded before players talk like that.”
Lennon conceded that with McGinn’s background – his grandfather Jack was once Celtic chairman – the Glasgow side may be the midfielder’s preferred destination, although English clubs have also contacted Hibs.
“There are other suitors out there but the only concrete offers we have had came from Celtic,” Lennon said. “You would need to ask John if his preferred choice is Celtic. However, there is still a long way to go before anything is finalised.”
McGinn watched from the stand last week as his team-mates trounced the part-timers from the Faroes 6-1 to essentially clinch their place in the second qualifying round of the Europa League against Greek side Asteras Tripolis.
The reason given was a “dead leg” which had required heavy strapping although Lennon also conceded the transfer speculation had been a distraction, saying: “It was difficult for John in the first few days but I think he’s over it now. He’s trained well in the last few days, is more relaxed and settled in himself.
“He’ll play tonight as it stands. He needs to play. If we negotiate this tie then we have a really tough one in the next round and we need our players up to speed and ready.”
An appearance by McGinn would mean he would be cup-tied for Celtic’s Champions League qualifiers if a deal was to be struck any time soon, a scenario which Lennon insisted didn’t bother him.
He said: “It’s not my problem, it’s just not. I need to do what’s best for my team. We want to progress in this tournament and, to do that, we will need to beat a very good Greek team and I’ll need my best players.”
The surprise departure of Simon Murray to South African side Bidvest Wits means Hibs will partner Florian Kamberi with young striker Oli Shaw tonight. It’s an opportunity Shaw intends to take.
“The gaffer’s given me a chance in the last few games and I want to repay that by scoring goals,” he said. “He wants me to work on other aspects of my game like hold-up play. I want to keep pushing myself and hopefully I can keep my place.”