Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn is a free agent after ending his tenure with Korean club Gwangju and could be on his way back to Scotland.
With as much due respect to 37 of the 42 teams in the SPFL, there are only five realistic possible destinations for the ex-Derry City man, should he wish to return to his adopted nation.
We look at the case for each one...
Aberdeen: Derek McInnes has already said that he’d be open to bringing McGinn back, and what better option for the 30-year-old than the club he starred for over five seasons? Of course, they always say ‘don’t go back’ and there are reasons for both parties to be hesitant on doing a deal.
Firstly, Aberdeen are absolutely loaded in attack. The Dons prefer to use a 4-2-3-1 formation and for the front four positions they have Ryan Christie, Scott Wright, Gary Mackay-Steven, Greg Stewart, Kenny McLean, Stevie May, Adam Rooney and Nicky Maynard. For most of his Aberdeen career McGinn played in a squad that had about two or three trusted squad players outside the first-choice XI. Now they can basically field two teams that would be good enough to finish in the top six. At 30, he’d want assurances his last good years won’t wasted away on the bench.
Having said that, if his confidence hasn’t been affected too much by his Korean misadventure, you’d have to expect McGinn to command a place despite the stiff competition.
Then it becomes a question of whether Aberdeen want to bring back a former hero, paying him decent money as well, when there’s a rising star waiting in the wings (pun intended). As expected for a young attacker, Scott Wright’s form has been up and down but he’s already shown this season that he’s a prodigious talent. Regular playing time is the most important thing at this point in his career, and it’s already tough with the sheer volume of team-mates at his position.
This is the most likely scenario if McGinn were to return to Scotland, but there’s a lot for McInnes to consider.
Hearts: If McGinn wants to go somewhere where he’ll be a nailed-on starter then look no further than Tynecastle where they are absolutely crying out for quality in the wide areas. Jamie Walker, currently injured, plays from the left-wing rather than on it, and can easily operate in the centre or on the right, so long as he’s allowed to drift. David Milinkovic, a summer signing from Genoa, has yet to impress, and behind that pair there’s nothing but a group of teenagers.
Furthermore, strikers Kyle Lafferty and Esmael Goncalves would dream of having an enthusiastic and competent crosser whipping in balls from wide areas. This is exactly the player Hearts need right now.
Unfortunately, there are severe doubts it’ll happen unless the club can quickly shift a couple of players. There was interest from the Gorgie Road side in the summer, with McGinn said to be open on a move to Tynecastle, but wages were a stumbling block. As Craig Levein reiterated in today’s papers, Hearts have spent their budget and will need some of their flops to walk through the exit door before they can sign anyone else, let alone someone like McGinn, who’d likely be one of the highest earners.
Rangers: Here’s a bold prediction for you: Derek McInnes to become the next manager of Rangers and to make Niall McGinn his first signing. How’s that for box office?
Ok, so it might not happen for a number of reasons, but the winger is someone the Ibrox side could really use, regardless of whether McGinn’s old boss at Aberdeen is the new manager or not.
Josh Windass has improved this season, to a certain extent, but the Ibrox crowd are still not sold on the former Accrington Stanley midfielder. If there’s any area of the Ibrox team which could do with an immediate upgrade, besides maybe a partner of equal ability for Alfredo Morelos, it’s at the left of midfield. McGinn also fits into Rangers’ style of getting the ball wide and getting it into the penalty box, having had the second highest number of total cross in the league last season behind Dons’ team-mate Jonny Hayes.
Celtic: With Hayes currently occupying a spot on the bench behind Scott Sinclair in the Celtic pecking order, it’s difficult to imagine Brendan Rodgers wishing to bring the former Parkhead youngster back to the club. Although, if the Celtic boss does feel the need to give his side another option on the wing - there’s umpteen in centre-midfield after all - then McGinn would be a cheap option and easily obtained.
Hibs: Reuniting with his former manager could be a left-field option for McGinn and he’d certainly fit into the Hibs team at present. The Easter Road attack is built around speed, with Martin Boyle, Simon Murray and Brandon Barker all capable of leaving defenders in their dust. McGinn would not only contribute to that gameplan, he’s got a more consistent final ball, both in terms of crossing and finishing, than any of those mentioned.
Barker tends to occupy the left-midfield role when Hibs go with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the youngster is only on loan from Manchester City. Neil Lennon could jump at the chance of signing someone permanently who he’ll know could do him a turn.
Also, Hibs fans would love to see their team sign a player who was twice linked with Hearts, especially with the way Edinburgh derbies have been going recently.