Aston Villa and Scotland midfielder John McGinn welcomes busy schedule and allays fears over bum

As it stands, Scotland are due to play one of their biggest-ever games when they host Ukraine in a World Cup play-off semi-final one month today.

John McGinn has won the Scottish Football Writers' Association International Player of the Year award for the third successive time
John McGinn has won the Scottish Football Writers' Association International Player of the Year award for the third successive time

The countdown is on. Prayers are being uttered every weekend by manager Steve Clarke and members of the Tartan Army as already tired players risk injury in these crucial final weeks of the season. Few are more central to Scotland’s hopes than midfielder John McGinn, who has been voted William Hill International Player of the Year for the third successive time by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association.

The Aston Villa player has enjoyed another impressive international campaign as Scotland strung together an eight-game unbeaten run following the European Championships to secure second place in their World Cup qualifying group.

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If he plays in all five games Scotland could face in June then McGinn will end a long season on the brink of his 50th cap. While thrilled to pick up the football writers’ award – “The success of the national team means it could have been anyone this year,” he said – he is not motivated by personal glory, particularly not in a World Cup year. Rather, he is consumed by the tantalising glimpse of Qatar which Scotland have been permitted following the World Cup finals draw a month ago. He welcomes the busy schedule.

“Most players will have a holiday planned but football comes first if you want to achieve things and be successful,” he said. “If Robbo (Andy Robertson) gets to the Champions League final, he might as well book Butlin’s for an afternoon because he won’t get any time off. But I’m not complaining. We’re enjoying the best moments of our international careers right now so why not play five games?

“If we manage to do the business and get to Qatar the boys won’t be moaning about games. We’d fly anywhere in the world to achieve that.”

He doesn’t need to travel far in the first instance. Only to Hampden for the clash with Ukraine, and then, if things go to plan, to Cardiff for the play-off final. He is under no illusion about the size of the task. Nor can he pretend Scotland will be popular victors if they manage to eliminate Ukraine.

He bows to no one when it comes to respect for the opposition and what their players have endured. However, this must be put to one side over the coming weeks.

“I’m sure neutral countries all over the world will be cheering on Ukraine but we have to admire from afar in the build-up,” he said. “We have to realise what an opportunity we have.”

There’s been something else to concern the Tartan Army other than fears star players might pick up injuries, as Kieran Tierney has already done. Reports McGinn is on a new diet at Villa manager Steven Gerrard’s behest have been received with coolness north of the Border. The midfielder allays fears his greatest asset might be diminished.

“I said to the gaffer that if I didn’t have this backside I’d be playing in the Lowland League!” McGinn said. “He had a laugh at that. But we’ve got an understanding that as long as I give it my best shot and keep the size of my backside, we’ll be fine.”

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