John McGinn reveals Steven Gerrard sits honestly, but Aston Villa hero’s new regime won’t lose his biggest asset

The nation can rest easy. Despite Steven Gerrard’s best attempts, John McGinn simply won’t allow that to happen.

The Aston Villa gaffer has had the Scotland talisman on a new diet and fitness regimen this season.

And in typical McGinn fashion, he embraced it with the goal of making him fitter, more athletic — and a better player.

But Tartan Army fans need not worry.

Because McGinn is adamant that while he eats more salads than sausage suppers, his famous behind isn’t going anywhere.

It is now one of the main weapons of the Scottish national team.

McGinn’s strength and tenacity in retaining players in midfield is one of his main attributes for club and country.

He joked with Gerrard that without it he would be a far cry from the Premier League.

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But seriously, the 27-year-old is enjoying life at Villa under the former Rangers boss.

And even after a long season, he is eager to face Scotland’s decisive World Cup match on June 1 against Ukraine as Steve Clarke’s side bid to qualify for Qatar in December.

He would love to see his nation decked out in collars and tartan again – like at the Euros last summer – if we make it to the tournament.

McGinn was named the SFWA William Hill Men’s International Player of the Year for the third consecutive time.

And he reassured Scottish fans that, despite Gerrard’s nutritional advice, the back is here to stay.

McGinn said: “We had an honest conversation and the gaffer wanted me to give myself the best opportunity to make the most of what I have.

“So I’ve been a lot more professional over the last 12 months, trying to be the best athlete I can be.

“Sometimes I’m a little hungry! But I hope that in the long run it can benefit me as a player.

“I told the gaffer that if I didn’t have that behind I would play in the Lowland League.

“He had a good laugh. But we understood that as long as I do my best – and keep my butt size – I’ll be fine.

“Since the manager arrived he has been first class with me.

“As a midfielder, I’m learning all the time here at Aston Villa.

“Having him and Gary McAllister to learn from – two of the Premier League’s greatest midfielders – is invaluable.
for me.

“I feel like I’m improving all the time. Some people might not think that, but I definitely feel like I’m getting better.

“I have more games under my belt in the Premier League and I hope
next season we can finish as high as the manager thinks.

“We have to give the fans and the owners what they deserve, which is to compete for the European places.

“I’m as ambitious as Gerrard and I’m hungry to succeed.”

McGinn will enjoy a few weeks’ break this summer ahead of Scotland’s crunch game against Ukraine, as well as a few Nations League games.

In the past, you may have heard players complaining about the schedule if there was a blockage of matches.

But with a World Cup berth up for grabs – and a feel-good factor engulfing Clarke’s team – McGinn can’t wait. He said, “I haven’t planned anything. My brother Paul is getting married this summer just before the game against Ukraine.

“Most players will have vacations booked, but football comes first if you want to get things done and be successful.

“If Andy Robertson goes to the Champions League final with Liverpool, he might as well book Butlins to spend an afternoon as he won’t have any free time.

“But I’m not complaining. We’re having the best moments of our international careers right now – so why not play five games?

“There is reason to say, ‘When do you rest?’ But there is time afterwards to rest.

“When I was at Hibs and involved with Scotland, I only had two weeks off.

“So I’m lucky this summer to have about three.

“If we manage to do business and get to Qatar, the boys won’t complain about the number of games.

“We would fly anywhere in the world to achieve this. We are a country that sometimes likes to hate itself.

“But for 10 days during the Euros last year, there was a real sense of unity and it was good to be part of it.

“Everyone wore a Scottish shirt. We are not used to this. It gave us the taste of being in a major tournament.

“We probably got the watered down version because of Covid so we are desperate to find a suitable one.

“Growing up, Scotland in a World Cup was foreign to me.

“So if we get there, we will achieve something that my generation has never seen before.

“And I hope we can inspire the kids who enjoyed the Euros so much.

“We still have regrets about this tournament, so we want to go to Qatar.

“If we do that, those regrets will go away.”

McGinn beat stiff competition from Lyndon Dykes, Kieran Tierney, Billy Gilmour and Craig Gordon to win the Scottish Football Writers’ Association award for the third consecutive year.

But given the terrific season Clarke’s team has had, he knows any of those boys would have been worthy of the award. He said: “It’s amazing to win it, this year probably more than the others.

“National team success means it could have been anyone. A lot of boys would have deserved it as much as me.

“But I’m really proud to get it for the third year in a row. I have to do something good.

“Hopefully we can go further now and get to the World Cup.

“It’s a sign of the new confidence in the Scottish team.

“When I think back to the game against Croatia at the Euros last year, we had chances to lead 2-1 – I had one myself.

“But overall we fell short in terms of quality.

“After that, we felt like we had to start again. We couldn’t just fail and let it all go.

“We felt that we had to go and get the place for the World Cup play-offs.

“The level of trust within the team is the best I have ever experienced.

“Denmark’s victory in Hampden was not the most important result of the group.

“But there was a real belief running through the whole stadium that we were a good team now.

“Hopefully we can go back to June.”

About Keith Johnson

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