John McGinn ready to take centre stage for Aston Villa in Premier League curtain-raiser

Scotland international to feature in first televised match since shutdown
John McGinn of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Newcastle United at Villa Park on November 25, 2019. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)John McGinn of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Newcastle United at Villa Park on November 25, 2019. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
John McGinn of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Newcastle United at Villa Park on November 25, 2019. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Aston Villa are supposed to have few eyes on them as they host the curtain-raiser for the English Premier League’s return on Wednesday. Villa Park will be deserted for Sheffield United’s visit. Yet, as John McGinn takes to the pitch for what will be his first game in 2020 following an ankle fracture last Christmas, he will be conscious of more eyes being on him than ever before.

“If you ask my team-mates they’ll say no chance do I need a crowd to play to my best level,” said the Scotland international. “I think in the back of your head, even though there’ll be no fans in there, it will probably be one of the most watched games around. It is the first game, six o’clock on Sky. So even though there are no fans in the stadium you’ll still feel the intensity and pressure to perform. I think it will still be different to training, so hopefully I can use that to do the same. Sometimes when you are that focused on the game you can’t really hear anything anyway, you just kind of drown it out.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Following the coronavirus hiatus, McGinn will be shutting his ears to any chat that the pandemic has diminished Villa’s chances of avoiding a swift return to the Championship. The assertion is made because five of the second-bottom club’s final eight games in this ten-match mini-season will be at home, where empty seats are expected to wipe out any normal advantage.

“My opinion is that nothing is normal now,” McGinn said. “We’ve all had to wake up and adapt to things… going to the shops, the chippy, anywhere, it is different. And it might be different for a long time so you can either moan about it or not. If you fail, I’ll bet you people will moan about it, but it is just about adapting and it is the same for everyone. We will be going to 
St James’ Park and places like that with no crowd noises.

“There are advantages and disadvantages. I’m sure my brothers would love to be playing behind closed doors at the moment, so we are lucky enough to see that side and lucky enough to be back playing games. From my point of view, I don’t have a problem with it. Everyone will agree that football is better with the fans in the stadium but at this moment in time it is just important we are keeping everyone as healthy as possible.”

McGinn being such a breenger and battler, whatever the circumstances, can seem to put his health on the line. And, partially, accounts for the fact he lost three months’ playing time even before the imposition of the Covid-19 shutdown. The 25-year-old caught his studs in the turf thundering into a challenge against Southampton three days before Christmas. It brought to a shuddering halt a first season in the glitzy English top flight during which McGinn had sparkled, not by refining his game, but by retaining the rawness in it. He won’t change now, even as his club cannot afford to lose him.

“The first part of the season was flying in and I was loving it,” he said.

“Every time I stepped out on to the pitch I couldn’t believe I was playing in the Premier League and that was the way I was treating the game. That’s probably why I got injured and I don’t regret that. I don’t regret how I got injured and if the same situation happened, I would do the same thing.

“It was just unfortunate. If I start worrying about how I go into tackles or how I play, I won’t be playing in this league much longer. You get bitten up and spat out. It has been a good time for me to reflect but far longer than I wanted to.”

McGinn’s approach has allowed him to be more effective the further up the footballing food chain he has gone. His range of passing and ferocious striking ability means he is no mere scrapper, but his incessant industry has allowed him to shake down opponents fixated on providing stately sublime interventions. Jamie Vardy, pictured inset, provides the unlikely inspiration for being the prosperous artisan among the aesthetes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Footballers always say you get more time the higher level you go. I’m not sure if I believe that – you certainly get punished more. I think there’s a respect you can play when you’re at that level and are a bit more wary but I just try and get in behind and run about daft. Jamie Vardy has made a career out of being the complete opposite from a lot of Premier League No.9s – and that’s just being an absolute nuisance. And if I can do that in a different position then hopefully I can be as successful as he has.

“I respected him as a player, but till I actually came down here I didn’t realise how annoying he was to play against. No one likes that and he’s managed to progress the way he has and keep doing it at such a high level. I know it’s a completely different position, but if I can be as much of a nuisance, that’s what I take from his game.

“If you’re a nuisance, then no matter who you are playing, you will give them a hard game. I didn’t think when I came down I was going to use things like that but when you have the opportunity to play against players who have been so successful then you need to learn from them.”



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.