Aston Villa star John McGinn reveals major difference between Scotland and England players ahead of Wembley clash
Preparing for their first major finals since 1998, John McGinn doesn’t want to see Scotland shuffle self-consciously back onto the stage. Instead, the Aston Villa favourite says they should strut into the spotlight with a well-earned swagger.
Ranked fourth in Group D, they face tough tests against Czech Republic, England and Croatia but the talismanic midfielder says that they can learn from the men he trains with every day, and plays against every weekend in the English top flight.
Steve Clarke’s side will open their campaign on June 14, against the Czech Republic at Hampden, and wrap up their group fixtures just over a week later, on June 22, against Croatia. In between is the highly-anticipated head-to-head with the Auld Enemy on the 18th and McGinn has backed Scotland insisting there is no major void in terms of talent, only in attitude.
“They [England] are exceptionally good players and they are arrogant in their own right on the pitch but not off it. What they are really good at, is that they don’t really give a toss what people think whereas, for years, Scottish footballers have probably thought ‘I’m not doing this or that because people will think I’m big-time’. But, at the end of the day, nobody really cares about what is happening on the park as long as you are getting results.”
With more than a third of the squad playing in the Premier League, alongside and against the bulk of Gareth Southgate’s team, McGinn says there is no reason for an inferiority complex.
As well as those operating in the top tier of the Scottish game, there are Champions League and Premier League winners, Europa League finalists and players who have medalled in competitions north and south of the border and gained valuable experience in European tournaments. There are also high-end Championship performers, meaning it is no longer just the likes of Scott McTominay and Andy Robertson proving they are equal to those around them.
“When I see Stuart Armstrong play, Billy Gilmour play, it’s nice to see that everyone down here is holding their own. That gap isn’t as big as they like to make out.
“I know I talk about this alot but it does bug me because the gap isn't as big as people think,” added the former Hibs midfielder, speaking before the Scotland squad flew out to their training camp in Spain. “Don't get me wrong, it is an exceptional league, and it’s not until you are on game 35 out of 38 that you realise how mentally tough and physically tough it is, but I have yet to see a Scottish player come down to this league and properly fail the way some big name European players do.
“We need to give ourselves more credit and big the Scottish league up more than we do because the talent is there, we just don’t have the arrogance to boost ourselves and I think it is about time we started showing that. This summer gives us the perfect platform to start doing that.”
A tight-knit squad, who bonded further on a boozy night of congas, singalogs, and boogying in Belgrade after a decisive penalty shoot out against Serbia saw David Marshall’s national standing skyrocket and Ryan Christie’s tears washed away years of disappointment.
“I have to be honest and say I was the drunkest man in Belgrade after that game! That night, Ryan Christie’s interview summed it up, that was the way the whole squad felt. It was just incredible.
“I was lucky enough to go to all the games when I was younger and that interview was an outpouring of the sheer desperation. When Luka Jovic scored the equaliser it was like a dagger in the back and I thought, ‘oh no, here we go again, we have just joined the list of maybe men’. But the proudest thing that whole night was how well we played. That made it feel special. It wasn’t just a penalty shoot-out victory, it was the way we went to celebrate after an enormous amount of pressure and having performed the way we did.
“Hopefully, that can give us confidence. I do think we are playing with a wee bit more swagger. Maybe not as much as we could play with but there is certainly a lot more confidence and a lot of younger players are coming through now who look the part so, hopefully, moving forward, we can make this a regular occurrence.”
McGinn’s audacity as he netted an overhead kick in the dying seconds of the subsequent World Cup qualifier is an example of that burgeoning belief.
“The way I have been playing in the past year or so with Scotland has given me a freedom to try things like that, “said the man who has twice been voted Scottish Football Writers’ International Player of the Year.
“That was one of the most special goals I have scored and, going into the Euros games, I think we will have to show our identity. We will have to show everything we’ve got.”
That goal came from hours spent on the family trampoline trying to emulate Zinedine Zidane and dreaming big dreams.
“It is not like you think about it until you are actually in that moment. The thing is you don’t have the springs to help you get up higher, you’ve just got some Toryglen soil! Luckily, it was bouncy enough and I managed to get it in the corner.
“You look at the players and everyone has got their own style of play, their own identity and the thing this manager has brought to the team is the understanding that we need to show our personality on the pitch.
“Before, we were trying too hard to play as a team and forgetting how good we are individually so it is important to give a nice balance. We are trying to get that now.”