Exclusive: Former Hibs star and Celtic target John McGinn on choosing move to Aston Villa

John McGinn (SNS Group)
John McGinn (SNS Group)

SCOTLAND legends Gordon Strachan, Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen all gave John McGinn their seal of approval when Aston Villa asked for an opinion on his ability.

Manager Steve Bruce – a former team-mate of Strachan at Manchester United and McGinn’s previous Scotland boss – and his coaches made exhaustive checks on the talented midfielder.

The feedback convinced them to push the boat out to sign him from Hibs in a £3m deal, beating off fierce competition from Celtic to do so.

Everyone Villa turned to told the English Championship club that they would be signing an excellent player, one who could help the club win promotion.

When the deal had been done, Brendan Rodgers remained fulsome in his praise of McGinn, but was clearly disappointed to have missed out on one of his major signing targets.

For his own part, McGinn is delighted to be part of such an ambitious club, and is excited – and humbled – to be following in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Stan Petrov, by joining the Midlands outfit.

In an exclusive interview, McGinn told The Sunday Post: “It’s very flattering if people with such standing in the game have said such nice things about me. It’s very kind of them.

“This an exciting challenge and it has always been an ambition of mine to play in English football.

“Looking on from afar, I always had an idea Aston Villa were a big club.

“But now realise I misjudged it – they are a massive club.

“The training ground is out of this world, and the stadium has that old-fashioned feel about it, a proper, traditional stadium.

“I want to do my bit to see it bouncing every week as we all pull together to help the club win promotion this season.

“The Villa fans have a brilliant reputation, and it’s going to be my privilege to play in front of them for the next few years.

“I feel tremendous pride to be here.

“I’m also following in the footsteps of guys such as Stiliyan Petrov.

“He was one of my favourite players at Celtic, and he enjoyed many successful years at Villa, as well as captaining the club.

“Stiliyan made an exceptional impact here – on and off the pitch – and I can only try to live up to the high standards set by him and others.

“There is also a strong Scottish connection, from Alan Hutton in the team to Colin Calderwood on the coaching staff.

“The Scotland manager, Alex McLeish, used to be the manager here, and Eric Black, Steve Clarke and Gary McAllister have all coached here in the past few seasons.

“Paul Lambert was also the manager.

“Going even further back, my dad tells me there was a Scottish influence when Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982 when they beat Bayern Munich, and guys such as Allan Evans, Ken McNaught and Des Bremner were in the team.

“So I feel proud to be here and to be a part of such a special club.

“The onus is now on everyone here at the current time to create our own history, and try to get us back into the Premier League.

“We have an excellent manager in Steve Bruce and he has brilliant guys beside him. We are geared up to give it a right go.

“However, we are well aware that there are some top sides in this division, and there will always be a fancy from the neutrals for the newly-relegated clubs such as Swansea, Stoke and West Brom to be heavily involved when it comes to the business end of the campaign.

“You can then add in other clubs such as Middlesbrough, Derby County, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and a few more.

“So we can all see just how tough a challenge faces us all. But I’m up for it. I love this kind of stuff. I’m ready for it.”

As much as his focus is on Villa, McGinn will never lose sight of his former clubs, Hibs and St Mirren.

His elder brothers, Stephen and Paul, play for the Buddies and the club will benefit to the tune of around £900,000 from the sell-on clause built into the transfer when he moved to Easter Road from Paisley.

Alan Stubbs, now manager at the Saints, signed him for the Hibees and helped develop his game to the next level.

McGinn admitted: “Alan Stubbs was great for me, and I will always fell indebted to him.

“He took me to Hibs, brought on my game and also taught me a lot about life off the park.

“He was the manager that took Hibs to the Scottish Cup Final and we will never forget that wonderful day at Hampden Park in front of the supporters when we won it.

“I wish him well at St Mirren and was delighted they got off to a good start last week at home to Dundee.

“I hope they stay in the Premiership – and I’m sure they will.

“It’s also another big season for Hibs, too, and I will miss the boys.

“Neil Lennon has really made strides there, and to have been progressing in Europe is just brilliant.

“I hope they can defeat Molde, and do well in the league again.

“On a personal level, Neil has said some very nice things about me in the past few days, and that’s very flattering.

“I hope he genuinely means it!

“Everyone knows what a top manager he is. He gets the best out of his players.

“I leave behind some great memories from my time in Scotland.

“The past five years have moulded me into the player I am today, but there is plenty room for improvement.”

McGinn has emerged in the past 12 months as a key member of the Scotland squad.

So Alex McLeish will be desperate to see the player flourish in the company of the other stars in the Championship.

The 23-year-old has nine caps for his country, and was also part of the end-of-season tour to Peru and Mexico.

He is very proud to represent Scotland, and wants that to continue.

McGinn said: “Pulling on the Scotland jersey is just brilliant.

“I’ll never forget my debut in a friendly against Denmark at Hampden Park a couple of years ago.

“I just wanted more and more of it after that night.

“Now we are ready to start up again, and the manager will be naming his squad later this month for the friendly against Belgium and then the Nations League game against Albania.

“On paper, we have to be satisfied with having Albania and Israel in our group, but we can’t underestimate either side.

“That would be disrespectful.

“Regardless of the opposition, we need to give 100% and build on things.

“The manager is highly-experienced and knows his stuff.

“As we all know, the end game has to be being at the Euro 2020 Finals.

“That’s the aim, that’s the focus.

“If we can get there, it will fill us all with unbelievable pride and a sense of achievement.

“But we need to take it take it one step at a time.

“However, my view is that we do have some really talented players in the squad, and this might just be our time.

“Why not?

“We need to prove it on the pitch, and it’s vital we get off to a good start in the first home game to give us something to build on.”