You could be forgiven for not even knowing who he was just a couple of years ago, but it’s safe to say that John McGinn is now a household name in the world of football. And even if he isn’t quite there yet, he will be soon. It’s been a brief but hugely successful career for the Aston Villa and Scotland midfielder so far, and it’s only going to get better.
The diminutive left-footed Glasgwegian has come on leaps and bounds ever since graduating from St Mirren’s academy, already endearing himself to those that pack themselves into the Holte End on matchdays. His tally of seven goals in ten games for club and country in recent months is up there with some of the top strikers in Europe.
It gets said too often, but football really does run in the family this time around. John’s brothers Paul and Stephen are still representing the black and white stripes up in Paisley, while grandad Jack is a former chairman of their Scottish Premiership rivals Celtic.
The Villa midfielder has been ever-present for his club in the top-flight this season, with his bursting runs from the middle of the park accompanying his ferocity and composure on and off the ball. The Scot seemingly never tires, and has been as crucial in winning the ball back for his side as he has been in providing the finishing touches in the final third.
It’s certainly been a rapid rise from playing in front of a couple of thousand fans in Scotland to tens of thousands south of the border, but one which the Scot has adapted to expertly. A couple of seasons at fellow Scottish outfit Hibernian undoubtedly did the midfielder the world of good, particularly after leaving his boy town club in bizarre circumstances after a training ground prank went horribly wrong for McGinn, with the youngster spending time on the sidelines after being hit with a training pole by captain Steven Thompson.
Before his exit, however, the young talent was crucial as St Mirren beat Hearts to lift the 2013 League Cup, the club’s first and last major honour in quite some time. Fellow Saints youngsters Paul Dummett and Kenny McLean were also present that day, and have since similarly moved on to bigger and better things with Newcastle and Norwich respectively.
Both McLean and McGinn benefitted from a youth system that also helped develop former Norwich and Villa man Paul Lambert, but it’s arguably at Hibs where a young and determined McGinn made his real breakthrough.
The energetic centre-midfielder was the key cog in the machine as the club won promotion to the Scottish Premiership and lifted the Scottish Cup – their first in over 100 years – during his time there. A baby-faced McGinn was also nominated for the PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year award and became the country’s first second-tier player to be called up to the national side while at the club.
Several outstanding performances helped catch the eye of Celtic, but unlike many before him, his bravery transferred off the pitch as he rejected a move to the Scottish champions in favour of a move to Villa Park.
Undoubtedly a loss for the Hoops, but McGinn didn’t look back. He hit the ground running with his first goal in English football coming against Sheffield Wednesday, a wonder strike that won that season’s Championship goal of the season, one that will, more importantly, be remembered by McGinn and those watching on for countless years to come.
The Players’ Player of the Season and Supporters’ Player of the Season trophies followed, but the Scot saved the best for last with the winner in last season’s Playoff Final victory over Derby, sending Villans up and the nation into delirium. A talented battle saw the likes of future Premier League regulars Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, Harry Wilson, and Axel Tuanzebe take the field, yet it was McGinn who had the final say.
For things to get even better was perhaps unimaginable, but after signing a contract extension at Villa Park in August this year, the 25-year-old went on to score a fine solo goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium just two days later. He continued celebrating his new and improved five-year deal the following month, returning to north London, this time to torment Arsenal and score his second of the season. Another goal followed in the home tie with Burnley, with an assist arriving in the win over Everton a couple of weeks prior.
McGinn finds himself in and around the best performing midfielders – Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Mason Mount – in the league this season, but possesses something they don’t, with his ability to defend as well as attack. A Scotland hat-trick against minnows San Marino is his latest boost in confidence, and he could find himself playing alongside compatriot Scott McTominay on a more regular basis should Manchester United get their way.
McGinn is certainly not out of place among the likes of Scotland captain Andy Robertson, whose similar career path could pave the way for a top club to take the leap and snap up McGinn on the cheap, much like Liverpool did with a player who is now one of the best left-backs in world football.
His first season in the English top-flight has already been a memorable one, but there’s certainly a long way to go for McGinn to truly establish himself among the club’s elite. Whether he gets the time to do so is another matter entirely, with his Villa career certain to run short should the club get relegated this season. Team-mates Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings will be first to go, but the Scottish midfielder won’t be far behind.
His energy, dynamism, determination and sheer presence have caused lot of problems to opposition midfielders, who simply can’t match this old fashioned, traditional midfielder who enjoys carrying out the essential dirty work that many of his fellow professionals simply cannot bring themselves to do. And as time goes on, he’s only going to get better.
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