"I wanted to play for Celtic"; John McGinn opens up on Bhoys near-miss

By Euan Davidson

April 30, 2021

It’s almost like every time John McGinn has a decent game, Celtic supporters are wondering “what if?”.

Famously, the Aston Villa and Scotland star had a grandfather who was chairman of the club. Not only that, but Celtic bid for McGinn while Neil Lennon was Hibs manager [BBC]. There really are layers and layers to the disappointment, with McGinn now valued at £25m [Transfermarkt].

If it wasn’t already clear, the midfielder has now outright said it: he wanted to join the Bhoys. There were the obvious family connections, the opportunity for silverware and the chance to play Champions League football. Knowing what we do now about the Scotland hero, we can be certain that the ex-St Mirren and Hibs man would’ve shone on that stage.

Speaking to Graham Hunter on The Big Interview podcast, McGinn confided:

“We went to the [Aston Villa] training ground and the stadium and I felt the way I was treated was perfect.

Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Celtic | LIVE Reaction

“That was a hard moment because I remember speaking to my mum and dad and we’d resigned ourselves to defeat with Celtic. Mum and dad grew up etched in Celtic, I wanted to play for Celtic, but it just wasn’t right. Maybe in the future you never know but that is something I can’t affect now, it’s passed.”

It’s fine. / (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

John McGinn was waiting by his phone for Celtic confirmation

McGinn expanded [The Big Interview]:

“When that first offer comes in you start thinking it’s done. It’s going to happen. So it was just a waiting game. The longest waiting game ever it ended up being. I’ve ended up back for pre-season and it was, ironically, Neil Lennon who was Hibs manager at the time.

“Hibs were amazing, it’s not a popular decision if you go from Hibs to Celtic but I think everyone, the supporters, the board, we all had an understanding that it was what I wanted and I respect that I wouldn’t kick the door down. I wouldn’t want to ruin what I’d built at Hibs.

“Stuart Armstrong was still there, (Ryan) Christie, Scott Brown, (Olivier) Ntcham, all playing at the top of their game. There was no doubt I had the belief that I’d go there and play but then I had to weigh up everything.

“I still, in my head, wanted to play for Celtic, no doubt. But then eventually time went on and it was August – I don’t know how it managed to get to August – but I started to become quite good at just playing and it probably spurred me on to play better.

“That spell was probably some of the best football I’ve played in my career. We managed to win in Greece in Europe, had a good start to the season. I ended up just being content playing football and block out the noise. There wasn’t really a resolution. Then Villa got a takeover and I knew there was a wee bit of interest.

“Next thing you know I’m walking around the Edinburgh Festival and my agent phones asking if I’d like to have a look around at Villa. I’m like, ‘Aye I’ll have a look’, didn’t end up coming back.”

Honestly: it’s fine we didn’t get John McGinn. / (Photo by Jan Kruger – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Well-established missed opportunity for Bhoys

In hindsight, things are always much clearer. To be fair to Celtic at the time, we did have an outstanding midfield. Even someone as talented as John McGinn wasn’t a certainty to start matches.

At that time in his career, he was flying. So it would’ve potentially upset the balance in the dressing room to have a player as talented as the former Hibs man not guaranteed minutes on the pitch. Brendan Rodgers would’ve had a difficult balancing act to reach.

Still, though: what might’ve been. McGinn, amongst his plentiful other attributes, is a leader and a very hard worker. His combination of grit and ingenuity would’ve helped Celtic to no end this season. A midfield trio of Brown, McGregor and McGinn would’ve been outstanding.

Regardless, the former St Mirren man has found success at a very high level. He’s also scoring bicycle kicks for Scotland [Sky Sports]. It’s not as if he can complain about how things have turned out.

We can, though.

READ MORE: Former Bhoys boss identifies “Celtic hat” for difficult question