FREAK ACCIDENT ON THE TRAINING GROUND ALMOST KILLED ME
Villa’s John McGinn is taking the top flight by storm... four years after his captain pierced his leg with a pole
FACING Kevin K i de d Bruyne and David Silva is one of the most difficult challenges in football, but given what John McGinn has overcome already, Manchester City are unlikely to worry him today.
McGinn, 25, is one of the rising stars of the Premier League, a hard-working, technically gifted midfielder with an eye for goal — three, plus an assist, in nine games shows how quickly he has adapted to the top flight.
His brothers — Stephen, 30, who was out for almost two years with a knee injury, and Paul, 29, play for St Mirren, where John was involved in an horrific training ground accident in 2015.
‘We were doing a possession drill involving training poles,’ McGinn remembers. ‘Steven Thompson, our captain, picked up a pole and tried to throw it into the grass, but he hadn’t seen me turn and it went into my thigh. It was a freak accident.
‘ It was a millimetre away from the femoral artery. I was a millimetre from not playing football at all, not even breathing. It was not until I met the surgeon that I realised I was lucky to be alive. It was pretty scary. When he told me how fortunate I was, I had no thoughts of my career. I was grateful it wasn’t worse.
‘There was nothing against Thommo. He was someone I looked up to in the dressing room, a massive help and someone I keep in contact with now.
‘I turned up to his retirement do with a training pole, so that got rid of any awkwardness. At the time, though, it was close to the end of my contract and some of the clubs I’d been talking to went cold.
‘There was not really any interest in me. Mentally, it was tough. You start to doubt yourself. We got relegated from the top division that season and I didn’t have a good year. Luckily, though, Hibernian signed me that summer and things have been on an upward spiral ever since. It’s crazy how things have changed. I don’t know whether it’s luck or fate but certain things have happened in my career which have helped me massively.’ McGinn (left) is so unassuming that Villa boss Dean Smith told him that he needed to be more arrogant on the pitch. ‘When I started to operate in more of an attacking midfield role here, people realised I could play. Dean Smith said, “You’re not an arrogant lad but you’re a good player and you need to start believing it”. I’ve managed to be a bit more confident on the park.
‘You need to show personality to be at this level and I love that there’s a freedom to express yourself here. There is nowhere better to improve your game and learn.’
Ask him about admiration from Sir Alex Ferguson, Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard and he replies: ‘I’m pinching myself to think they even know who I am.’ Yet there is a glint in his eye when he speaks, and a steel to his character that should not be underestimated.
He signed a new five-year deal at Villa in August and would be worth tens of millions on the market but you sense that the memory of those final days at St Mirren, when clubs were stalling on signing him, still drives him.
McGinn is irritated that people in England believe Scottish players are inferior. ‘It’s a nice feeling to prove certain people wrong,’ he said. ‘I love being able to say, “Told you, that’ll show them”.
‘I’m not a fan of that analysis of Scottish football, which is very much under-rated. It’s nice that Ryan Fraser, Andy Robertson and I have proved that.
Now Villa are facing their two most difficult tests: City at the Etihad Stadium today and Liverpool at Villa Park next Saturday. Their attacking inspiration comes from McGinn and Jack Grealish and although the captain is an extrovert and McGinn understated, they dovetail well and can ask questions of any opponents, even ones as good as City.
Whatever the outcome, though, McGinn will retain a strong sense of perspective, in part because of his friendship with Mikey, a young boy who has leukaemia.
‘Mikey was doing a tour at Hibs during my time there, and one of the members of staff asked if I would come and say hello,’ McGinn recalls. ‘I went to his house and he had a “McGinn wall”. It was crazy to see it but if I could be a distraction from the treatment he was going through, I was happy to help.’
Mikey was Villa’s mascot for a 2-0 win against Rotherham in September last year.
‘We are privileged to have an effect on people’s lives and I would like to try to do more on that side,’ McGinn adds.
‘ In football, it’s easy to get carried away with everything that’s flung at you but it’s important not to, because it can quickly be taken away from you.
‘So if ever I moan about not seeing my nephew for a while, Stephen will say, “I wish I was playing at Villa Park”. It’s nice to get that reminder of how lucky I am.’
Hero and Villan: McGinn poses at the club’s training ground