You are always fighting a losing battle when you’re Scottish, says John McGinn

John McGinn in action for Scotland (SNS Group)
John McGinn in action for Scotland (SNS Group)

HE has been dubbed “McGinniesta” by Aston Villa fans.

But John McGinn knows the rest of English football doesn’t see him in the mould of a World Cup winner.

It sees him as a pub league player.

It’s not that the former Hibs star is out of shape or off the pace.

It’s simply that he’s Scottish.

There’s no petted lip when McGinn talks about it – not even a hint that the 23-year-old is tempted to pick up his ball and head back home.

There is just a quiet desire to prove Scottish football’s sceptics – and his own – completely and utterly wrong.

“When a Scottish player goes down the road you’re always going to get doubters,” concedes the Villa star.

“You always get people saying you’re from a pub league, which I think is wrong.

“So, it was important that I went down there and proved that I could cut it at that level and, thankfully, so far I’ve managed to do that.

“It’s early days in a long season, but hopefully I can carry that on.

“There’s definitely more scrutiny of Scottish players moving to England.

“I think you’re always fighting a losing battle when you’re Scottish and I don’t think that’s right.

“Even last Monday night at Hampden, people were looking at Stephen O’Donnell and saying he plays for Kilmarnock, but you saw how assured he was in his performance and he was brilliant going forward.

“I think the way that people look at Scottish football is wrong, but at the same time, we have to start proving it on the park and start showing it again.”

Dumping Albania was a decent way to go about it after being comprehensively humbled by Belgium.

It got Scotland’s Nations League campaign off to the winning start it needed.

But it also helped a squad shell-shocked by the Belgians to get their heads – and hearts – back in the game.

“There was a lot of pressure on us coming into the game with Albania and rightly so, so it was important to get the win,” said McGinn.

“It could have been a lot more, but we’ll definitely take the three points.”

He continued: “Belgium was tough. It was definitely the lowest point of my Scotland career.

“In the games I’ve experienced, everything has gone OK apart from that, but you learn from it.

“A couple of times on Monday night I didn’t! But I can only try harder the next time.

“I feel as if I contributed a lot more, and the team as whole did as well.”

For all McGinn is a passionate defender of Scottish football, he is happy enough to admit that moving to the English Championship has lifted his game to a new level.

It is a rough-and-tumble league of giants, all vying for a shot at the multi-million-pound glory of promotion to the Premier League.

McGinn is no giant.

But the man known by friends and team-mates as “Meatball” is more than holding his own in the impressive surroundings of Villa Park.

“Everyone is strong, athletic and quick, and that’s something I’m trying to improve upon and trying to get better,” is his assessment of the Championship.

“Technically, you can always improve on that, and it’s important that I’m trying to up my game all the time.

“I feel as if I’m coming on in leaps and bounds and the manager has been great with me so far, so hopefully I can carry that on.

“I’m getting used to the league, there’s a new challenge every single weekend, so it’s demanding, but I think it suits my game.

“What I bring is different to what is there. I might not have the same ability as other players, but I have a hunger and desire to win. That’s important at a club like this.

“The manager has shown faith in me to go and do what I’d been doing at Hibs, and it’s good that he trusts me.”

Villa boss Steve Bruce has previous when it comes to believing in players from north of the border.

“He’s had Robert Snodgrass, Allan McGregor and Andy Robertson before me, so he knows he can find somebody up the road. Hopefully, so far, I’ve managed to repay his faith,” said McGinn, whose appearance record for the Villains suggests he has done exactly that.

In starting every league game since his near-£3milion move from Hibs, the Scotland star has quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite.

He laughs off the “McGinniesta” tag, inspired by Barcelona and Spain midfield legend Andres Iniesta, bestowed upon him by the massed ranks on the famous Holte End.

But he has a clear affinity for Villa’s long-suffering support, who are desperate to see their club back in the Premier League.

“I was so used to playing at St Mirren and then Hibs all the time, so it was really important that the next place I was going, I was going to play,” he said.

“Thankfully, the manager so far has shown faith in me to go and play. It’s a massive club with great aspirations.

“They are in a similar situation to Hibs when I joined them, the fans are sort of distant and slightly fed up with what has gone on and it’s up to us to change that.

“The only way we can do that is by getting results and getting the club back to the Premier League.

“I didn’t realise the scale of the club until I got my teeth into it.

“They crave success the same way that the Hibs fans did, and thankfully we’ve managed to put a smile back on their faces.

“They’re getting sell-outs now every week, and that’s the aim down there, to try and get bums back on seats and to try and get the club into the top-flight and competing in the top half of the table.

“Hopefully, we can do it.”

Hoping is one thing. Believing is another altogether.

McGinn isn’t one to make brash statements of intent – he is too smart for that.

But while “hope” is his mantra when it comes to both winning promotion and continuing to shine individually in the Championship, there is belief behind it.

It’s there in his every stride on the pitch.

Without it, the boldness of his performance for Scotland on Monday night would not have been notable.

McGinn didn’t hide after his Belgium errors.

He didn’t hide after being bailed out of another couple on Monday against Albania.

He kept on putting his body on the line, kept on fighting, kept on winning the ball, kept on playing passes.

Heart like that – belief like that – is tough to stick a value on.

But Aston Villa may be able to stick a nine-figure price tag on it at the end of the season if it helps them get back to the big time.

“That’s the aim,” stated McGinn.

“The new owners have come in and backed the manager, albeit late on in the window, but when you are at a club like Aston Villa it belongs in the Premier League.

“Hopefully we can be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

“It‘s so demanding. Everyone in the world is trying to get to the Premier League, so you have that challenge every week.

“You need to stand up and be counted and, hopefully, I can do that.”