John McGinn believes it is time to start talking up Scottish football rather than allow people to be constantly downbeat about it.
The Hibs midfielder views Scotland’s friendly against Holland tomorrow night as a fresh start following the sacking of Gordon Strachan, the SFA’s director of performance Malky Mackay having taken over on an interim basis.
Mackay named eight uncapped players for the Pittodrie match, while 14 of the initial 24 in his squad play their football north of the border, challenging them to prove they are worthy of their place in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Despite Strachan’s failure to lead Scotland to next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia and last year’s European Championships, McGinn insisted the national side is actually on the up, having jumped a massive 14 places and into the top 30 in FIFA’s world rankings.
Pointing to the increased attendances in the Premiership with Hibs, Hearts and Rangers all now restored to the top flight, he said: “I think the product is getting better, gradually it is, and there’s a lot of players who might feel hard done by not being in this squad.
“It shows there’s a lot of players coming through and we and start talking ourselves up a bit, I think we need to do that at times. The manager has a good balance between players playing here and in England so hopefully we can prove that in Scotland it is good.
“People do like to talk us down, it’s a Scottish thing. We are pessimistic, we look for the negatives all the time. If we want them to talk us up, we have to do it on the park and I think we are doing that.
“You look at some of the games down south that aren’t great to watch but up here in the Premiership it’s all action with goals, it’s good to watch.”
The 23-year-old, who is in line to win his fifth cap, admitted there was “a freshness” about the squad assembled by Mackay, containing a few friendly faces for himself in the shape of Easter Road team-mate Paul Hanlon, ex-Hibs striker Jason Cummings and former Hearts player Callum Paterson.
He said: “It’s nice, a change, but we also have to show we are good enough to be here and everyone is determined to do so. There’s a lot of top players not here. It’s a fresh start for us to show we are capable of starting the next qualifying campaign.
“We know games in the finals will be played at Hampden and to represent your country there would be massive. It’s something to look forward to and everyone is hungry to show that Scotland is a nation on the up and that we deserve to be there.”
McGinn suffered the frustration of watching Scotland’s last two qualifying matches from the bench, enjoying the win over Slovakia but suffering along with everyone else as Slovenia snuffed out the chances of a play-off place.
Now he is hoping tomorrow night, the first of potentially four friendlies before the Euro qualifying campaign gets under way, will be the springboard for him to become a regular in a dark blue jersey.
“I was desperate to get some game time,” he admitted, “It wasn’t to be, but I was totally supportive of the decision and like everyone else I was gutted we did not make the finals. But we managed to get a bit of momentum going, started to look a right good team, so we have to use these friendlies that are coming up and take that into the qualifying campaign.
“Holland is a really good game for us, they won’t treat it as a friendly. They missed out on qualification just like us and will be wanting to prove people wrong as will players in our squad. It’s a chance to show what you can go on a big stage against a good team, It will be a tough test, but if we can get a good result it will stand us in good stead.
“We are craving what everyone is craving, to get to the finals of a major tournament.”
McGinn is lucky enough to have youth on his side in that quest, numerous Scotland players having failed to get such an achievement on their CVs over the past 20 years, his Easter Road team-mate Steven Whittaker one of that number, the 33-year-old restored to the national set-up by Strachan but missing this time round.
He insisted still having Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher – although the Stoke City man has withdrawn from this squad through injury – still around underlined the burning desire to make the first major finals since France ‘98.
McGinn said: “When you are growing up to even be involved in a Scotland squad is a massive achievement, to go on and play for your country is an amazing thing, something I will never take for granted.
“Darren and Scott still being in the squad shows they don’t want to give that up. They are two top players with a lot of experience who can help newer and younger boys. Both are great role models and for me having them in midfield, there’s a lot I can learn from them.
“It’s one of our strongest areas and each time I come away with Scotland I feel I get better and better. However, while you respect them, at the same time you are here to try to get the jersey off them and show you are better.
“That aside, though, you want a positive result for the country and then you can look for yourself to get better, to improve and show what you can do.”
McGinn has been touted as a possible long-term successor to Scotland captain Brown but, he insisted that’s not something he’s thought about, saying: “Scott has been the driving force for Celtic and Scotland for a long time,
“But we are different players, he has a right foot, I have a left foot for a start. I do try to take wee bit from his game and implement it into mine, but at the same time I try to take bits from others. I don’t try to base my game on one layer and I’d rather play alongside Scott than replace him.
“I’ve had nice wee tussles with him when I’ve played against him, you want to show you can match him. If I can have as good a career as he has had in a Scotland jersey I will be delighted.”
McGinn revealed Mackay has already given his players a pep talk about being positive and confident, but, he insisted, that’s something both he and Hanlon aren’t currently lacking given Hibs clinching a fourth successive league win at the weekend to move within two points of second-placed Aberdeen in the table.
He said: “Paul’s call-up is long overdue, he’s been different class. He’s the role model at the club, first into the gym, last out and finally he is getting his rewards.
“Both of us are full of confidence. It’s nice coming away after a win, never mind four. I don’t think I’ve had four in my career, so it would be nice to make it five. It’s a great time to be a Hibs player. As a player you want to play in front of full houses and win games, luckily enough we are doing that right now.”