As boss of the national side, Strachan raised plenty eyebrows when he called the Hibs midfielder into his squad for a friendly against Denmark in early 2016.
Yes, the former St Mirren player had plenty of potential but, at that time, the Easter Road club were operating in the Championship, somewhere few would have thought Strachan would have paid much attention.
“People didn’t know what I had seen,” disclosed Strachan. “I’d gone to watch the Under-21s train at Mar Hall but I stood about 100 yards away and no-one saw me.
“I watched the team bus come round. The players got off it, headphones on and sauntered down to the training ground. I saw the kit man struggling with bags, mannequins, things like that and I was just about to go and give him a hand when John came round the bus.
“I saw him speak to the kit man, obviously offering a hand and then the picked up all the mannequins – which are quite heavy – and walked 400 yards with them to the pitch. That told me right away what he is about – he looks after people. His team-mates and the others just strolled down.
“People said to me that was quite a surprise because Hibs were in the Championship, but they didn’t know what I had seen of him as a person.”
Strachan’s shock choice was vindicated when McGinn went on to play the full 90 minutes against the Danes, picking up the man-of-the-match award and he has now made himself a Scotland regular with 12 caps.
A small act on McGinn’s part and one which most would think would be given little consideration in judging a player. Talent is obviously a major factor but such behaviour has, insisted Strachan, been a founding stone of many a top player’s career.
Citing Sunday night’s television documentary about Liverpool’s legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly, Strachan said: “There have been changes in football, science, nutrition and so on but the best sports pshychologists in the world by a mile were Shankly and [Sir Alex] Ferguson.
“Shankly was talking about how he wanted his team to be the fittest, and that’s what he did. The technique had to be right but you had to be a good man. Basic stuff, but he was right. Even today, because the best players I played with, Kenny Dalglish and Bryan Robson, were top, top men. We have to produce top, top men and John McGinn is one of them.”
McGinn had caught Strachan’s eye before his bargain-basement move to Easter Road and he’s watched intently as his career has taken off as, already a League Cup winner with St Mirren, he helped Hibs to that historic Scottish Cup triumph, promotion into the Premiership and now, entering the final year of his contract, he is a target for Celtic who have had three bids – the latest for £2 million – knocked back by Hibs who see that sum as undervaluing their prize asset.
Strachan said: “Let’s not forget, John is not a youngster any more, he’s nearly 24. We think here of youngsters being 23 or 24, it’s not. Elsewhere it’s 18, 19. John is in the middle of his career, not the start.”
Having revealed McGinn’s talent at the Buddies was such he would tell English clubs to “buy him, you can’t go wrong,” Strachan neatly sidestepped the question as to whether he was surprised no-one from south of the border had joined Celtic in trying to lure him from Hibs given there has been interest reported from outfits in both the Premier League and Championship.
The former Hoops boss said: “Celtic see him every week, it’s the best way of seeing a player. I remember saying to John Hartson ‘who is the hardest centre-half you have played against?’ and immediately he said ‘Gary Caldwell’.
“People then asked what I was doing signing Gary but big John is one of the best centre-forwards in Britain and when he’s told me he’s the hardest to play against, I’ll buy him.
“That’s the best way to judge what a player is.
“It was the same with Graeme Souness at Rangers. He bought Ray Wilkins because he’d played against him.
“It goes back to this: 99 per cent of the the time you have to be a good man to be a good football player.”