The commitment question has hung around the Scotland national team like a bad smell for too long. There has been more than a whiff of something in the constant churn of players either shunning involvement or pulling out with injuries that, uncannily, seem to occur just before international breaks and resolve themselves the moment the club fixtures resume. Sharing the company of John McGinn at a Scotland camp then offers a much-needed breath of fresh air.
The Aston Villa midfielder is so old-fashioned he even dares to present playing for his country as some sort of pinnacle to be pursued at all costs – even if that means turning up with niggles.
Clubs, in particular down south, seem to see that sort of dedication to Scotland at least as something to be firmly discouraged.
McGinn makes plain he would not accept any arm-twisting to swerve Scotland duty from his club manager Dean Smith. In any case, he is certain Smith would not even consider such tactics. Not least because the 25-year-old being made available for his country whenever the call came was a condition he stipulated before he agreed his move to the Midlands club from Hibernian in a £3 million deal in the summer of 2018.
Other players would not appear to be in so strong a position – or feel so strongly about putting their foot down.
Kieran Tierney was prevented by Arsenal from joining the squad for this final Euro 2020 double-header. Scotland captain and Liverpool defender Andy Robertson has missed out with a knock it is inconceivable would have kept him out of any club game this weekend. Liam Cooper withdrew with a slight groin tear that the Leeds United website said – on relating the news – would not prevent him being available next weekend.
The Bournemouth local paper gave the game away by reporting that Ryan Fraser was “being rested” with a minor knee injury as opposed to coming away with Scotland.
It must be said that Scott McTominay appears to have been genuinely unfortunate with an ankle problem that could sideline the Manchester United midfielder for up to a month. Scotland, meanwhile, seem forever unfortunate when it comes to the bodies of their best players. McGinn maintains his limbs would require to be in bits to withdraw.
“I’m sure every player and club is different,” he said. “I can only speak from my experience and I’m sure Dean Smith would tell you – I’d have to be on crutches to not come here. I always, as best as I can, try to make myself available.
“I think I’ve had to pull out once in training. I’m sure the lads have got their reasons, I don’t know whether it’s through injury or other things. I know I watched big Scotty [McTominay] get a knock last weekend. I can only focus on what myself and the club allow me to do here and Dean Smith is very comfortable with me coming here and knows my stance on it.
“The vibe I get here is that everyone wants to be involved. That’s the way it should be really. That’s the point I make clear to Aston Villa and did do when I signed. I think clubs sometimes, from a selfish point of view, just want you wrapped in cotton wool but I can only speak from my experience and the manager. If he ever got called up for England he would have been the first one there. He’s always open to that and always thinks about his experiences so it’s never a problem from my end. I don’t know if it is with other people, I don’t really get involved in that, but I’d hope not.
“Injuries and things happen in football [but] it’s hard for the ones that are here because we want everyone available.
“That’s only natural from a selfish point of view. I can only speak for myself and every time I am called up it’s a privilege and an honour to play for Scotland and everyone in the country and I am sure everyone in the squad feels the exact same way.
“You dream as a young player of playing for your country. I used to go and watch the games, I was lucky enough to go. I am passionate, the boys down the road get sick and tired of me trying to boost Scottish football, they are quick to put it down. There’s nobody as desperate to succeed for Scotland as I am. I’m sure everyone’s in the same boat, obviously people have certain reasons for not being here through injury.
“It’s important that every trip we try to get as many people fit and ready to go as possible. It’s frustrating, obviously, you want your best players available but it gives a chance for the other lads to come in and are willing to take their place.”
The place of the Scottish game, both at international level and in club terms, is something that matters to McGinn. On Tuesday, when Kazakhstan visit Hampden, he is desperate to atone for his worst night in Scotland colours, the 3-0 defeat away to the same opponents seven months ago which not only cost Alex McLeish his job but left the country’s hopes of progressing from Goup I in tatters after the first qualifying game.
It was another outcome that ensured McGinn would be ridiculed by Villa team-mates.
“The big thing for me is I’m craving success here to go down, finally, with a smile on my face,” said the player, who rates his hat-trick in the 6-0 victory over San Marino last month as the highlight of his career.
“Too many times, I’ve gone down the road off the back of a poor result. We know we have the ability here and the players in the squad to change that. English people’s view of Scottish football is something I don’t think we’ll change but results like Celtic and Rangers had in Europe a couple of Thursdays ago help at Friday morning training an awful lot.”
More men like McGinn would help the Scotland cause an awful lot.