John McGinn imitated Zinedine Zidane, was stabbed by a teammate at St Mirren and is known as ‘Meatball’ – now he hopes to drive Scotland to Euro 2020 glory

When John McGinn flew to meet Houston Dynamo boss Owen Coyle, he must have feared he would never play football again.

The midfielder had just been released from St Mirren and had flown to Texas on an economy-class flight in a bid to salvage what was left of his career.

McGinn began his career at St Mirren, but nearly quit football after a freak training ground accident

The Aston Villa man actually joined The Buddies at the age of seven and broke into the team as a teenager, catching the eye as a midfielder who could score goals and be dynamic across the pitch.

After impressing in the Scottish League Cup semi-final in 2013 against Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown of Celtic, it seemed the sky was limit for the youngster.

Yet at the age of 20 it appeared as though the promise would soon turn to disappointment after a freak training ground accident.

Teammate Steven Thompson hurled a spiked pole at him, puncturing his thigh and slicing seven centimetres into the leg, a millimetre away from the artery.

McGinn has since established himself as one of the key men for Scotland and Aston Villa

Four months after his release, talks with Houston fell through and it was Hibernian who eventually took a chance and signed him in 2015 for just £100,000.

Renowned as ‘Meatball’ in his home country, due to his short hair and round head, McGinn had spent his formative years in Clydebank imagining he was Zinedine Zidane – practicing bicycle kicks on his trampoline.

His brothers Stephen and Paul are both professionals, while granddad Jack was a former Celtic chairman and parents Stephen and Mary still attend matches in the directors’ box.

His infectious enthusiasm, endeavour and cult hero performances at Easter Road endeared him to the Hibs fans and they branded him ‘Super John McGinn’ and even insisted he was better than idol Zidane.

‘Meatball’ helped Hibs lift the Scottish Cup against Rangers at Hampden Park in 2016
Renowned for his squat frame, McGinn is adored by teammates and coaches alike for his enthusiasm and diligence

He moved to Aston Villa in the summer of 2018, despite strong interest from Celtic where the family connection is strong.

Villa made sure to get their man by producing a charm offensive, which included turning on the floodlights at the Holte End.

Since making the move south of the border, McGinn has captured the hearts of Villa fans and even attracted admiring glances from some of the biggest names in the game.

Manchester United reportedly considered a £50million bid for the midfielder, while Sir Alex Ferguson is said to have questioned why the deal never went through.

McGinn has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League
Getty Images – Getty

At national level, the high performances have continued and he even managed to score a spectacular bicycle kick against Asutria which proved all the hours spent on the trampoline were worth it.

Steve Clarke’s side get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park, a game which has huge significance with games against England at Wembley and then against Croatia to follow.

With it being their first major tournament since 1998, Scotland fans are hoping to see McGinn at his typically destructive best; rampaging through tackles in midfield and disrupting opposition midfielders before breaking into the box himself.

Speaking on the morning of the game, former Scotland striker Ally McCoist admitted the 26-year-old is ‘pivotal’ to their chances.

The hours spent imitating Zidane on the trampoline were well worth it

He said on the Breakfast Show: “I’m loathe to put pressure on any individual player because I am really looking forward to seeing the boys collectively as a team do well.

“But I think from our point of view, John McGinn has been excellent for us in the national team.

“Villa fans love him, he’s got a bit of form about him and he has been scoring goals for Scotland.

“I just think he is key to us, he is pivotal to us performing well. For me, he is the key player today.”

McGinn went from jostling with Scott Brown to taking his Scotland place

Having reached double figures for his country in the scoring charts, ‘Meatball’ has certainly come a long way since the days of mucking around as a youngster in Paisley.

And despite still remaining as the joker in the pack of this talented and diligent Scottish side, McGinn is out to prove Scotland are no joke.