For a long time, John McGinn seemed destined to succeed Scott Brown for club and country. Family links to Celtic strengthened persistent speculation that he would end up at Parkhead one day and in the summer of 2018 the Hoops made their move.
A deal seemed inevitable only for Aston Villa to steal a march and snatch the midfielder away from the grips of the Scottish champions.
Of course, that move has worked out rather well for McGinn, with the 25-year-old now a key figure for Villa in the Premier League. Now, those comparisons with Brown look somewhat foolish.
While Brown is a midfield anchor, a barrier in front of the back four and a dynamo charged with winning the ball back and recycling it, McGinn has become a goalscorer.
Brown himself told the media in 2018: “When I was John’s age, I was a totally different player to him.
“I just ran about smashing people. John’s got a lot more than I had at that age. I’ve matured into playing central and sitting in front of the back four more.
“John’s still got that energy to go from box to box. When he has that, he might as well use it to his full ability.”
Indeed, the 25-year-old has seven goals in his last six games for club and country, scoring a winner for Scotland against Cyprus on Sunday. But it’s in the Premier League where McGinn has made a real impression. Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings have both caught the eye for Villa over the early part of the season, but it’s the Scottish midfielder who has shone brightest.
Until this season, McGinn has been mischaracterised. Over the course of his career, he has been classified as a number eight and even a number six by some. But that doesn’t quite do justice to his attacking potency, something which has come to the fore for Aston Villa this season. He might not be a number 10 in the traditional sense, but that is closer to accurately grading what McGinn is.
McGinn is the archetypal modern attacking midfielder. The role of the number 10, the traditional central playmaker, isn’t what it was a decade ago. Instead, it’s the movement and energy of such players that is valued above all else and that is something McGinn provides plenty of. He is a relentless force between the halfway line and the edge of the opposition penalty area.
“He has an unbelievable energy level and a big, big heart, but people don’t see the technical side of it as well – he’s got that in abundance,” his manager Dean Smith told the press earlier this season.
It’s little wonder that McGinn has been the subject of conjecture linking him with a move to Manchester United, with the Old Trafford side believed to be interested in the Scot. He would certainly give them something they are currently lacking in attacking midfield. McGinn’s game has many sides and many different qualities, but it’s his strength as a goalscorer that is marking him out from the rest.