Sources: Lennon went out of his way to help Villa beat Celtic to 'best-ever' signing
Steve Bruce last season hailed the masterstroke Aston Villa capture of John McGinn as the “best-ever signing” in his 23-year management career.
But there is more to the capture of the midfielder from Hibernian in the summer of 2018 than just a bargain deal that wildly exceeded expectations.
A source with knowledge of Villa’ recruitment at the time has told Football Insider how Bruce lured McGinn even though he had “never seen him play” in the flesh.
The Scotland international was also persuaded to shun boyhood club Celtic after Bruce spoke at length to Neil Lennon, who was manager of Hibs at the time.
Lennon spoke glowingly of McGinn and helped convince the Villa manager it would be money well spent at a time, in August 2018, when the club were under financial scrutiny.
The driving force for the transfer had not been Bruce, or even the nerve centre of the Villa recruitment team.
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It had been scout Bobby Jenks, who was the club’s Scottish representative for a year from June 2017.
He had sent multiple glowing reports about McGinn to the club’s recruitment operation headed by former technical director Steve Round and made clear he would be a brilliant signing who could be the midfield engine.
But other members of Villa’s domestic scouting team at the time were not convinced by McGinn’s qualities.
They did not even shortlist him as a target until Jenks had left the club following cutbacks, and some actively dismissed the Scot as a potential signing.
Bruce eventually picked up the baton and used his extensive contacts book to get the lowdown on the player.
One of those was Lennon and the northern Irishman, who would ironically be reappointed Celtic manager just a few months later, was key to Villa beating then-manager Brendan Rodgers to the deal.
Bruce did not see McGinn play at any point, which some at the Midlands club saw as surprising.
But he invited the player to one of his favourite hangouts at the Belfry and some sweet-talking helped persuade the player to sign.
It was time and money – the deal as an initial £1.5million downpayment that role to £2.75m with add-ons – well spent.
McGinn made an instant impact and was key to Villa’s 2018-19 promotion with his goals and energy from midfield.
He has continued to be a star in an impressive Villa side in the Premier League ahead of his 100th appearance for the club against Bruce-managed Newcastle United tonight.