WAYWARD tales of how Celtic failed to sign John McGinn from Hibs in August 2018 still abound in football circles.

It seemed certain the Scotland international powerhouse, a boyhood Hoops fan, was heading for Parkhead until he was whisked across the border to Aston Villa.

The dramatic change of direction in the player’s future stunned everyone and some fanciful versions of the story have emerged since that momentous decision by the player.

Celtic book author Alex Gordon set the record straight in his tribute book ’50 Flags Plus One’, dedicated to the club’s first 51 untainted titles in their glorious history.

In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, here is an extract from that chapter in the 2020 publication.

IT looked a stick-on for John McGinn, the grandson of former Celtic chairman Jack, to join the champions. There had been the obligatory haggling over a fee between the buying and selling clubs.

The field looked clear for Celtic to get their man with no apparent realistic interest from elsewhere.

Steve Bruce, the-then manager of Aston Villa, made noises, but there was a colossal snag; the English second-tier outfit were financially challenged. They had required extra investment to meet a £4million demand from HMRC.

As the transfer deadline approached, it looked as though the formality of a £2.5million switch between the Scottish teams would be cemented.

PUSH OFF…John McGinn tussles with Tom Rogic for possession as Celtic ease to a 4-2 win over Hibs in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden on October 21 2017.

With under a fortnight until the close of the summer transfer market, an Egypt-based company, NSWE, which was controlled by two billionaires, invested heavily in the Midlands club. Bruce fired in a £2.75million bid and, literally overnight, McGinn had been convinced his future lay with Aston Villa.

Hibs were more than delighted to take the money from the English club as opposed to selling him to a Scottish competitor.

The sudden and unexpected cash injection had been supremely inopportune timing for Celtic. Brendan Rodgers, clearly, was far from satisfied. He had made personal contact with McGinn and the jigsaw had been missing just one important piece; a signed contract in triplicate.

I have been reliably informed McGinn would have received £25,000-per-week on a four-year deal at Celtic. That was identical to the figure on offer from the English club with the promise of a massive bonus if they earned promotion to the Premier League.

At whirlwind pace, the player had been whisked south. A determined Bruce made promises of building his midfield around the combative Glaswegian. There had been no such rash and foolish commitment from Rodgers.

A week before the second leg of the Champions League third round qualifier against AEK Athens in Greece following an uninspired 1-1 stalemate in Glasgow, Rodgers spoke to the Press at Lennoxtown.

SPLASH HIT…a determined John McGinn in typical action pose during Scotland’s 2-0 Euro 24 qualifying win over Georgia at Hampden.

Asked if it would mean the end at Celtic if he stopped pushing for advancement, Rodgers, surprisingly blunt, answered: “Yeah. My job is done then. Terminado. Gone. But that’s the challenge. You have to test yourself to the limit. You have to be courageous as a club. It’s a joy to work here.

“I love my life here and I enjoy being the manager here. But it’s no good if I just sit back and get comfortable. Being comfortable is the enemy of progress.”

He added: “I totally respect how difficult it can be, the financial side is tough at times. I have a huge respect for the board here – absolutely. They have run the club strategically very, very well. Me coming into here and what I have seen in the past couple of years, I have real good relations with every one of them.

“There is not an issue there at all. My focus is on doing the best for Celtic. Deep down, I am a supporter, but I am also a professional manager. I also look for the help that is needed to take the team to the next level if that is what the demand is. I will always push for that.”

I found the manager’s delivery more than candid and somewhat disturbing. In between “I couldn’t be happier” and “terminado”, something had gone more than slightly awry.

The mood in the camp wasn’t heightened when the challenge for the group stages of Europe’s elite competition disintegrated following another apathetic performance in the Greek capital, losing 2-1 to an average team who went on to lose all six of their Champions League group games.

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