Mighty McGinn is becoming more Gerrard every day

John McGinn celebrates a goal v Crystal Palace

John McGinn is in the right place to learn his all-action midfield trade. He is already really very good.

 

As is customary, Wilfred Ndidi leads the midfield tacklers and is joined by Premier League newcomers Christian Norgaard and Vitaly Janelt, usual suspect Yves Bissouma and a couple of very British-sounding, industrious and industrial Brazilians.

The central midfield creators are led by Ilkay Gundogan (one of the players of 2021), flavour of the month Conor Gallagher and Youri Tielemans and a couple of English stalwarts with impeccable set-piece delivery.

The only man to appear on both lists – the Premier League’s top ten midfield tacklers and midfield creators this season – is Aston Villa’s McGerrard, John McGinn. In an age of specialists, McGinn is a throwback to the days of all-round, box-to-box midfielders, and he is clearly being finessed by one of the masters of the genre. The very good McGinn has become the mighty McGinn under Steven Gerrard.

When discussing suggestions for the top ten players outside the Big Three this season, I predicted that McGinn would be in the list if it were being written a month later; you could already see the seeds of his improvement under Gerrard, who is probably more thankful that he inherited a Villa side featuring the Scot than he ever would have been to manage Jack Grealish. Gerrard knows better than anyone that great sides are built through the spine, not on the shoulders of a maverick.

It’s little wonder that he has been linked with Manchester United; he is McFred if that nickname was reserved for a better, Scottish version of Fred rather than the entirety of United’s central midfield plans. And it’s little wonder that Jurgen Klopp has been described as a ‘huge admirer’ of McGinn; he knows a little about central midfielders having created a title-winning captain from the bones of Jordan Henderson. He is everything Klopp hoped he was buying in Naby Keita.

Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn

United were first linked with McGinn in 2019 but the McGinn of late 2021 is even better, noticeably leaner and far less selfish, with 17 shots in 10 games under Dean Smith becoming four shots in six under Gerrard, with three of those coming in one game against Crystal Palace. It’s a small sample but McGinn is tackling twice as often under the new manager, who is sending his Villa players out to play with an intensity rarely seen under Smith. Pedal is being pushed to the metal and McGinn has his foot down.

“I’m just going to try and keep learning and if I can get anywhere near the level of Steven Gerrard or Patrick Vieira I’ll be delighted!” said McGinn after that clash with Palace which saw two Premier League legends in the dug-outs. While the top flight has generally moved away from former players as managers, there’s little doubt that McGinn will personally learn more from a Champions League-winning midfielder than a former Walsall centre-half. He knows this is a rare opportunity to learn his craft from one of the very best.

The feeling is clearly mutual, with Gerrard saying: “I love John McGinn, I love the person, the character, the player. I’m the lucky one that’s able to work with him and try to improve his game.” If football had wedding vows…

If Villa are to establish themselves as a top-half Premier League club – and that has to be the first target for Gerrard – then McGinn is key to a front-foot approach that will require commitment as well as inspiration. His performance alongside Douglas Luiz and Jacob Ramsey against Norwich on Tuesday night was exceptional and you would expect the same again on Saturday when Burnley come to Villa Park for a fixture that ended 0-0 last December. This time nothing less than victory will be accepted by Gerrard or McGinn; it should be the new normal.

Thankfully for Villa fans, there is no financial imperative for the club to sell McGinn even if United do offer north of £50m, nor is there a contract clause that compels them to listen. And there is clearly no better place for McGinn to learn. Everybody at Villa should be feeling pretty damned lucky right now.