John McGinn opens up on being Scotland's talisman as he reveals his best moment in national shirt
It isn’t difficult to see why John McGinn has become the darling of the Tartan Army. The Aston Villa midfielder gives absolutely everything in the cause of Scotland, and doing so means absolutely everything to him.
More grounded than a rebellious teenager, the adoration he elicits from the support feels akin to the adolescent-crush variety. It can appear as if he is a one man national team in the eyes of the faithful owing to the Super John McGinn ditty having become the soundtrack for all Scotland’s internationals. It was again on Wednesday night at Hampden before a ball was kicked. Before he moved within one game of 50 Scotland caps in typically stand-out fashion. A product of nudging up to joint-ninth in the all-time scoring list alongside Mo Johnston courtesy of a 14th strike with lion rampant on chest that paved the way for the 27-year-old to captain Steve Clarke’s men to an intoxicating 3-0 Nations League victory over Ukraine.
McGinn betrays no faux modesty or affectation over his status. He is simply chuffed to bits by it. Even if he seeks to explain it both rationally and daftly. “Obviously it helps when you score most of the goals…” said the Aston Villa captain with a grin. “And the song is a wee bit catchier and easier to learn than some of the others, so I don’t know if it’s that. But it certainly makes me feel ten feet tall, and as someone who experienced many, many nights watching Scotland, you always dreamed about the fans singing your name. It doesn’t get boring, and I hope I’ve still got another 50 games to come with them singing my name.”
The endearing nature of McGinn’s character perhaps is summed up by his response to being asked what it is like to have assumed the role of talisman for the national team. Were he a French scholar you can bet he would have reached for the phrase ‘noblesse oblige’, his reply amounting to much the same. “It’s good when it’s good, but it’s bad when it’s bad,” he said. “There’s obviously a bit of responsibility and pressure. There have been times where I’ve missed big chances or missed opportunities and the team have looked and thought ‘right, come on John, give us a goal’. But it just makes nights like Wednesday night even sweeter. And I’m more than happy to take that little bit of responsibility onto my shoulders and try to provide for the team, whether that’s assists or goals or even just a bit of energy and work-rate.”
McGinn just wants the best for Scotland, and to be the best he can for his country. Still three weeks away from turning 28, that best should be in front of him. He is honest enough to admit that he considered the whirling dervish ways of his younger days might preclude any sort of international career.
“I think when I first came into the Scotland squad I was very raw,” he said of his introduction to the scene six-and-a-half years ago. “I was basically a rabbit in the headlights still, doing a lot of good things but doing a lot of bad things. I just feel with the games and the standard of games I’ve been playing in, I’ve tried to become cleaner. I’m certainly not as clean as I want to be, but I’m trying the best I can to make better decisions. With experience, decision making comes with that, you get used to playing in a pressured environment, making better decisions and just playing what you see basically. I feel as if I’ve got a lot more to offer, I’m still fit, I still feel strong, and I’ve certainly got more to come. Definitely.”
More has already come from McGinn in an international context. He feels comfortable taking the armband any time he steps into the role in the absence - as is currently the case - of Andy Robertson. Likewise in being one of the experienced players the younger squad members “look up to - I think”. Some elements never alter, though.
“The night of my first cap was surreal,” he said of the Denmark friendly loss of March 2016. “Growing up a Celtic fan, playing alongside Broony [Scott Brown] was just invaluable. The way he spoke through the game. I remember for the first time in my career I was really, really nervous because I thought if I didn’t play well it might be my last-ever game – not in football but for Scotland. Certainly, that game made me feel hungry for more. I remember the feeling walking off the pitch, waving to my family. I thought: ‘Right, this is a bit of me.’ Thankfully, from then I managed to become a mainstay. But the feeling has never changed, whether it’s cap one or - hopefully - cap 50 on Saturday. It’s always a proud moment looking up and seeing the family there.”
How McGinn is binded by those bonds. Bonds furthered with his becoming an uncle again on Wednesday thanks to the birth of a son Liam to brother Stephen - “I hope he’s a left-pegger like Paul’s son Jack”. It says everything about the Villa attacker that it is Paul, now with Motherwell, who immediately springs to mind for the Scotland experience he treasures above all others, which came away to Austria last September. “From my 49 caps, the one clear highlight was when Paul came on then,” he said. “No matter how many caps I will be able to get, no matter how many goals I score, playing for your country with your brother is something unrivalled. He might mention that as well. He was brilliant that night, but we knew it might only be one [time] and it might be the only opportunity for that to happen. Qualifying for the Euros is certainly up there, but if I had to choose a moment that stands out, it would be playing with Paul against Austria.” Enough said.
McDonald’s Fun Football ambassador John McGinn was speaking at one of 20 new locations opening this Autumn. Fun Football is the UK’s largest free grassroots football participation programme and will give one million children access to coaching over the next four years. Sign up to attend a session near you at mcdonalds.co.uk/football
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