John McGinn reveals Steven Gerrard honest sit down but Aston Villa hero’s new diet won’t lose biggest asset

The nation can rest easy. Despite Steven Gerrard’s best attempts, John McGinn simply won’t allow it to happen.

The Aston Villa gaffer has had Scotland’s talisman on a new diet and fitness regime this season.

And in typical McGinn fashion, he has embraced it in a bid to make him fitter, more athletic – and a better player.

But Tartan Army fans needn’t worry.

Because McGinn is adamant that, even though he might be eating more salads than sausage suppers, his famous backside is going NOWHERE.

It’s now one of the Scottish national team’s main weapons.

McGinn’s strength and tenacity in holding players off in midfield is one of his main attributes for both club and country.

He joked with Gerrard that, without it, he’d be nowhere near the Premier League.

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But in all seriousness, the 27-year-old is loving life at Villa under the former Rangers boss.

And even after a long season, he can’t wait to tackle Scotland’s vital World Cup play-off tie on June 1 against Ukraine as Steve Clarke’s side bid to qualify for Qatar in December.

He’d love to see his nation decked out in Saltires and tartan again – just like it was at the Euros last summer – if we make it to the tournament.

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McGinn has been named the William Hill SFWA Men’s International Player of the Year for the third time running.

And he has reassured Scotland fans that, despite Gerrard’s nutritional advice, the backside is here to stay.

McGinn said: “We had an honest chat and the gaffer wanted me to give myself the best opportunity to get the best out of what I have.

“So I’ve been a lot more professional over the last 12 months, trying to become the best athlete I can be.

“I get a bit hungry at times! But hopefully in the long run it can benefit me as a player.

“I said to the gaffer that if I didn’t have this backside I’d be playing in the Lowland League.

“I had to laugh at that. But we’ve got an understanding that as long as I give it my best shot – and keep the size of my backside – we’ll be fine.

“Since the manager came in he has been first class with me.

“As a midfielder I’m learning all the time here at Aston Villa.

“Having him and Gary McAllister to learn from – two of the Premier League’s greatest midfielders – that’s priceless
for me

“I feel I’m getting better all the time. Some people might not think that but I certainly feel like I’m improving.

“I’m getting more games under my belt in the Premier League and hopefully
next season we can finish as high as the manager believes we can.

“We have to give the supporters and the owners what they deserve, which is competing for European places.

“I’m as ambitious as Gerrard and I’m hungry to succeed.”

McGinn will get a few weeks’ break this summer before Scotland’s critical tie against Ukraine, as well as some Nations League games.

In the past you might have heard players complaining about the schedule if there’s a logjam of matches.

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But with a World Cup place up for grabs – and a feelgood factor engulfing Clarke’s squad – McGinn can’t wait. He said: “I haven’t planned anything. My brother Paul is getting married this summer just before the Ukraine game.

“Most players will have a holiday booked but football comes first if you want to achieve things and be successful.

“If Andy Robertson gets to the Champions League Final with Liverpool, he might as well book Butlins to spend an afternoon because he won’t get any time off.

“But I’m not complaining. We’re enjoying the best moments of our international careers right now – so why not play five games?

“There’s a case for saying: ‘When do you get rest?’ But there’s time afterwards to rest.

“When I was at Hibs and involved with Scotland, I only got two weeks off.

“So I’m fortunate this summer to get roughly three.

“If we manage to do the business and get to Qatar the boys won’t be moaning about any amount of games.

“We’d fly anywhere in the world to achieve that. We’re a country that likes to hate each other at times.

“But for 10 days during the Euros last year there was a real feeling of togetherness and it was a great thing to be part of it.

“Everyone was wearing a Scotland shirt. We’re not used to that. It has given us a taste of being at a major tournament.

“We probably got the watered down version because of Covid so we’re desperate to get to a proper one.

“Growing up, Scotland in a World Cup was alien to me.

“So if we get there we would achieve something that my generation has never seen before.

“And hopefully we can inspire the children who enjoyed the Euros so much.

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“We’ve still got regrets from that tournament so we want to get to Qatar.

“If we do that then those regrets will go away.”

McGinn beat off stiff competition from Lyndon Dykes, Kieran Tierney, Billy Gilmour and Craig Gordon to win the Scottish Football Writers’ Association award for the third year on the trot.

But given the terrific season Clarke’s side have enjoyed, he knows any of those boys would have been worthy recipients of the award. He said: “It feels amazing to win it, this year probably more than others.

“The success of the national team means it could have been anyone. Lots of the boys would have served it as much as me.

“But I’m really proud to get it for the third year in a row. I must be doing something right.

“Hopefully we can go one step further now and get to the World Cup.

“It’s a sign of the new belief in the Scotland squad.

“When I think back to the Croatia game at the Euros last year we had chances to go 2-1 up – I had one myself.

“But overall we fell short in terms of quality.

“After that, there was a feeling that we had to go again. We couldn’t just fall short and let everything slip.

“We felt we had to go and get the World Cup play-off spot.

“The level of belief within the squad is the best I’ve ever experienced.

“The Denmark victory at Hampden wasn’t the most important result in the group.

“But there was a real belief flowing through the whole stadium that we’re a proper team now.

“Hopefully we can go and back that up in June.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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