Villa’s John McGinn is tak­ing the top flight by storm... four years af­ter his cap­tain pierced his leg with a pole

Daily Mail - - Premier League - By Tom Col­lo­mosse

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

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