Off the back of a historic away win in the Champions League, Celtic would be…
The ticket was printed with ‘Hibernian v Celtic’ on it, but for many people, fans and pundits, it was John McGinn v Scott Brown. This was a duel many in Scottish football had been waiting to see. Brown, of course, is a stalwart of our country’s game, enjoying something of a career renaissance over the past two seasons. McGinn is widely seen as his heir.
It was compelling to watch the two men go head-to-head on the same pitch, twice in the space of just a few weeks – first in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup and then in the Scottish Premiership not long afterwards. Every touch, tackle and pass was analysed. A tally was totted up by those eager to declare a clear winner. Brendan Rodgers might have been one of those people.
“There was no contest. Scott Brown was the exceptional midfield player on the pitch,” Rodgers said after the match. “I like young John McGinn. I think he’s a good player. He’s got drive and good energy. But Scott Brown is the exceptional midfield player in Scotland and he has shown that, not just in Scotland but when he plays in the Champions League.
“So, he [McGinn] will have a way to go before he will be at that level. Scott is a brilliant player and he was very, very good today. You know what you get with Browny, from the first minute to the last. He’s a winner.”
On the face of it, these remarks from Rodgers were somewhat condescending. Of course, he was never likely to state McGinn as the victor of his personal duel with Brown, but the Northern Irishman’s comments perhaps went further than expected in downplaying the young Hibs’ midfielder’s quality. Maybe too far, like a lovestruck teenager attempting to deny his or her infatuation.
Celtic have, after all, been strongly linked with a move for McGinn, as has half of the English Championship. Nottingham Forest made an offer for the midfielder in January, with the Easter Road side rejecting the £1.5 million bid lodged. It’ll take more than that to sign the brightest young prospect in the Scottish game right now.
“The more John plays and the form he shows then it’s inevitable there will be interest from elsewhere. There will be a price to pay – we are in a good position in terms of finance where we don’t have to sell ourselves short. For his own progress John might want to look elsewhere. But he is very happy here at the minute.” – Neil Lennon on keeping McGinn at Hibs.
There is an inevitability to McGinn’s rise. At just 23, he controls games like few others in the Scottish Premiership can. That’s probably where the comparison with Brown stems from. He too has the capacity to position himself as the dynamo through which everything flows. He also has thighs the width of his torso.
2018 will be the year that sees the two players’ paths cross. While Brown might still be operating at the peak of his powers right now, Rodgers must soon consider what the succession plan is for when his captain finally fades. That’s why, in this writer’s opinion, Celtic will move for McGinn this summer, when Rodgers will have time to plot the route for the future. The Hibs midfielder has already shown for Scotland that he can succeed Brown, impressing in the handful of games he has been involved in. He could do it at club level too.
Of course, this is just a prediction, but there’s reason to argue that Celtic should take the suggestion. There are clear parallels between the career of McGinn and that of Brown, as well as between their playing styles and qualities as players. There’s also a prevailing sense that McGinn will one day end up at Celtic, given his family links with the club.
At present, Rodgers is concerned with finding ways to plug the gaps in his first team. Marvin Compper has been signed to add some much-needed experience and know-how, as well as ability on the ball, at the back. Moussa Dembele’s exit this window could prompt a move for a striker, but in the long term, Rodgers must look further ahead. It already seems that he is.
By signing Lewis Morgan from St Mirren Celtic have shown themselves to have an eye on the future. Morgan won’t even join up with his new teammates until the summer, staying on loan in the Scottish Championship for the second half of the season. But he has been deemed worthy of a place in their long-term vision. So they have moved now. They could, and should, do the same with McGinn, albeit on a higher, more expensive, level.
There will be competition for McGinn. England, as is always the case when it comes to young Scottish players, will be an attraction for the 23-year-old, but at Celtic he can become the face and front of an entire club, in the same way Brown is now. He can play in the Champions League, giving him the sort of platform that ultimately saw Virgil Van Dijk become the most expensive defender in history this month. McGinn will move to Celtic in 2018, also becoming Brown’s heir at international level. All the signs point to its inevitability.