Aston Villa fans have long appreciated John McGinn. Until this season, the midfielder enjoyed a cult status at Villa Park where songs are sung about the Scotland international. Of late, though, McGinn’s reputation has swelled further. The 29-year-old might not be ‘better than Zidane,’ as the chant goes, but he is currently one of the best players in his position in the Premier League.
Under Unai Emery, Villa have gone from strength to strength. Statement wins over Manchester City and Arsenal have pushed Aston Villa to within just two points of Liverpool at the top of the table with fans and pundits now debating whether they can be considered genuine title challengers.
McGinn is the beating heart of Emery’s team. So much of Aston Villa’s game flows through the Scot who is showing more and more in the attacking third of the pitch. Previously seen as a midfield anchor by Steven Gerrard, McGinn has been liberated in front of goal this season – see his well-taken winner against Arsenal on Saturday.
Of course, others have also flourished since Emery’s arrival at Villa Park. Douglas Luiz is now the midfield all-rounder many expected him to be earlier in his career. Ollie Watkins has sharpened his cutting edge as a penalty box finisher, scoring eight goals in 16 league games this season. Leon Bailey has added some much-needed consistent to his game.
In McGinn, however, Aston Villa have a player who acts as a force of nature. The club captain sets the tone for everyone in claret and blue on the pitch. McGinn embodies the intensity of Emery as a manager and translates that into an electrical current that powers him and the players around him.
“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,” said Emery when asked about McGinn’s importance to Villa. “I really, really appreciate a lot as a person how he is, but as a professional, he is fantastic. His connection here, his commitment here for a long time, with the supporters, with Aston Villa, with the project that is here, and he came here when they were in the Championship… I think he’s one of the players I really appreciate and really need to be an example for others.”
Emery might have harnessed McGinn’s full potential as a Premier League player this season, but the midfielder first highlighted his true quality at international level. Indeed, it was Steve Clarke who showed Emery how to get the best out of McGinn, pushing the midfielder into more advanced areas than he was accustomed to being in.
Only five players (Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law, Hughie Gallacher, Lawrie Reilly and Ally McCoist) have scored more goals for Scotland than McGinn who has become the country’s man for the big occasion in recent years. With Euro 2024 not far away, he could soon make a big impact on a major tournament too.
By then, Aston Villa’s unexpected title challenge will have played out. McGinn could be a Premier League champion by the time Scotland kick off Euro 2024 against Germany. The way Villa are going, it would be foolish to rule out a team that has collected more Premier League points in 2023 than anyone besides City.
If, however, Aston Villa fall short, it won’t be because of McGinn. He epitomises everything special that is currently happening under Emery with the midfielder getting better and better with almost every match he plays. To call McGinn a cult hero now doesn’t do justice to how good he has become.