The story of Aston Villa ‘legend’ John McGinn

John McGinn has had a staggering rise at Aston Villa since joining the club in 2018. This piece will delve deep into the journey and life of the Scotland international that has seen McGinn captain his club to Champions League qualification.
Aston Villa v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Aston Villa v Arsenal FC - Premier League / Neal Simpson/Allstar/GettyImages

John McGinn has left fans asking when the McGinn statue will be put up at Villa Park following a campaign that has seen the Scottish international captain Aston Villa to the Champions League. McGinn had a wonderful season that was full of goals, assists and dominant midfield performances and he will be looking to continue that fine form and winning mentality into the European Championships for his country Scotland.

John McGinn
Aston Villa v Lille OSC: Quarter-final First Leg - UEFA Europa Conference League 2023/24 / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

McGinn's unique playing style in midfield and lively personality makes him one of the most exciting players to watch and many big clubs have been interested in signing him in the past. McGinn's Villa journey has reached an all-time high, but there have certainly been bumps along the way. I will look into the life of our captain and the highs and lows that have helped to shape McGinn into the leader and player he is today.

1. Early life

Cheik Tiote, John McGinn
Mark Runnacles/GettyImages

McGinn grew up as part of a footballing family. His two brothers Stephen and Paul have both gone on to play professionally. John was known as a polite, well-natured young man with a cheeky sense of humour. McGinn once told the story of him having a laugh with friends in class, acting as the class clown, and being sent to detention. Unfortunately for McGinn it was his mother, who was a teacher at the school, that was the teacher on duty. McGinn described that as a 'frosty evening'! It was this incident that helped McGinn to learn to develop a better sense of discipline and has later described this as the incident that first set him up in good stead to be a captain one day. As a player, his unique playing style for someone who was always quite small was noted early and this was something that St Mirren, John's first club, were keen to help develop further. David Longwell, head of the St Mirren Academy at the time (who now is Academy Manager at Burnley) said: "He just had this aptitude for playing football. There's a lot that's made him who and what he is, but that personality was always there, even since a young, young kid". Longwell claims to be able to recall in great detail about McGinn as a six-year old heading the ball as though he was a hardened centre-half. He gained respect and recognition from a young age.

2. Scottish football

John McGinn
Hibernian v Dundee United - William Hill Scottish Cup Semi Final / Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

McGinn struggled with body shape and size growing up in football, with growth coming a lot slower than those around him. It was during his training with St Mirren that he developed his famous ball-shielding technique due to the fact he was short and stocky. McGinn is well known for using his backside to protect the ball from opponents and it was when he broke through in 2012 at St Mirren that people started to see that. McGinn would go on to make 87 appearances over the next three years for the club but the final handful of those proved a difficult time for McGinn and the club. McGinn suffered a bizarre injury in training as a result of a prank gone wrong involving a training pole that was speared through his thigh. McGinn missed the remainder of a relegation season and this spelled the end of his time at St Mirren and the beginning of a legal case against the club for the injury. Following trials in America in the hunt for a new club, McGinn ended up signing for Hibernian. McGinn quickly became a fans favourite at Hibs and proved to be one of the best midfielders in the country. He won the Scottish Cup in 2016, Hibs first trophy in that competition for 114 years before helping the team secure promotion to the Scottish top flight the next year. McGinn would go on to achieve over 100 appearances for the club and was nominated for the PFA Scotland Players' Player of the Year Award in 2018. This attracted bigger interest and McGinn was close to first joining Nottingham Forest before offers from Celtic were also rejected. Eventually, a truly giant club did come in for McGinn and in August 2018 he signed for Aston Villa.

3. The Championship days

John McGinn
Aston Villa v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Final / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Steve Bruce is not remembered too fondly by Villa fans for his time in charge at Villa Park but one thing they will be grateful to him for is signing McGinn. Bruce, in 2023, claimed that McGinn is the best signing he has ever made in football. McGinn hit the ground running for Villa and again quickly became a fans favourite! However, Villa were performing poorly under Bruce and he was sacked two months after the signing of McGinn. In that time, by the way, you may remember McGinn scoring one of the best goals ever seen at Villa Park during the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. Anyway, Dean Smith came in from Brentford, and as a lifelong Villa fan, it was written in the stars what would happen at the end of the season. McGinn went on a hot goalscoring streak with goals against Derby, Nottingham Forest, Middlesborough and Sheffield Wednesday during a winning run that saw the team reach the play-offs. Villa would go on to reach the final and it was McGinn that scored the winning goal against Derby County at Wembley to send Villa back to the Premier League. McGinn was awarded with the club's Players' Player and Supporters' Player of the Season.

4. Captaincy catastrophe

John McGinn, Tyrone Mings
Manchester United v Aston Villa - Carabao Cup Third Round / Matthew Ashton - AMA/GettyImages

McGinn scored Villa's first goal back in the top flight away at Tottenham Hotspur, the first goal at their new stadium. However, it went on to be a frustrating campaign for McGinn following a serious ankle injury picked up in December 2019. His return from injury was difficult and despite showing glimpses of the brilliance he had showed for Villa prior to his injury, form was inconsistent. Skip forward to July 2022 and McGinn is named as captain of Aston Villa by manager Steven Gerrard. The situation was all a bit of a mess as Tyrone Mings had been rather brutally stripped of the captaincy and it was handed to McGinn who himself was not enjoying his football at the time. During an incredibly difficult opening to the season that saw Villa hover around the relegation zone, McGinn became a scapegoat with fans and his poor performances, lack of willingness to engage with fans post-match and the heavy burden of captaincy was leading the way to an exit from the club. McGinn himself admitted he was considering leaving the club. However, thankfully for John (and all of us quite frankly) Gerrard lost his job with the club sat 17th in the league and Unai Emery was appointed as Head Coach.

5. Super John McGinn is back!

John McGinn
Naomi Baker/GettyImages

The journey for McGinn since the moment Emery was appointed has sky rocketed to a point that even he may not have imagined. His dominant midfield performances were starting to return to the level he showed in the Championship and fans were singing his name loud and proud. McGinn would prove to be a crucial figure in leading the team's charge up the league table and the connection between the player and the fans was back. The connection between the whole team (manager and staff included) was back. The Villa were back. Villa went on to finish 7th and qualify for the Europa Conference League which would be Villa's first appearance in a European competition for 15 years. The 2023-24 season was McGinn's best in his career to date. His leadership on and off the pitch was clear for all to see and his performances continued to get better and better. McGinn also added more goals and assists to his game with the winning goal at home to Arsenal in December being one of the goals of the season (it got my vote!). The season finished with Aston Villa in fourth place and qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1983.

"“He is a very good example, of how he is consistent and trying to help and to be an example, a very good example for players.

I really, really appreciate a lot as a person how he is, but as a professional, he is fantastic.

His connection here, his commitment for a long time, with the supporters, with Aston Villa, with the project that, and he came here when they were in the Championship… he’s one of the players I really appreciate.”"

Unai Emery (November 2023)

McGinn's journey in a Villa shirt is one that has seen a range of highs and lows in his six years at the club, with many claiming that his status is now one of 'legendary' following the success of this season. McGinn is a character hugely loved by the players, staff and fans at Aston Villa and at just £2.5 million back in 2018, he must go down as one of the best pound-for-pound signings in English football in the 21st century. 208 appearances in Claret and Blue, and counting!

Super John McGinn, we salute you.