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Scotland dancing to McGinn’s tune again as midfielder lifts spirits



  • Aston Villa skipper McGinn is a key man for Steve Clarke’s side at Euro 2024
  • Scotland are gearing up for their glamour opening match against the hosts
  • Clarke has already lost six players to injury ahead of the tournament 

Days before a ball is kicked, the image of Euro 2024 has already been captured.

Irrespective of what transpires over the next month, the picture of John McGinn in a Bavarian hat performing a Schuhplattler dance between a couple of lederhosen-clad locals will take some beating.

For the last two weeks, Scotland’s national team have been training together, eating together and living under the same hotel roof. After a long journey from Glasgow to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, some would probably have preferred an early night to taking a bus journey to the local Bayernhalle for picture opportunities with the mayor and the songbook of the local oompah band.

For all the privileges they enjoy, international footballers are like any other workmates who spend too much time in each other’s company. A genuine, likeable character who knows how to bring a smile to faces betraying signs of strain and tension ahead of a match with Germany, Aston Villa skipper McGinn knows when to lighten the mood and delight fed-up team-mates and locals alike.

‘Absolutely,’ said assistant manager John Carver. ‘Isn’t it good that he joins in with the people and the culture? I couldn’t have done that — especially when they went down to the squat. That’s not me.

John McGinn was quick to make himself a favourite with the locals after arriving in Germany
Scotland touched down on Sunday – but won’t be expecting a warm welcome come Friday
Steve Clarke’s side take on the hosts, Germany, in the opening game of Euro 2024 in Munich

‘If I had done that, I wouldn’t have been getting up again. But it was good.’

The laughter of Scotland’s management was laced with apprehension. Before flying to Germany, Steve Clarke lost Lewis Ferguson, Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson, Jacob Brown, Lyndon Dykes and Ben Doak to injury, while captain Andrew Robertson and Lawrence Shankland were taken out of the first training session as a precaution.

There would have been something very Scottish about the team talisman limping out of the Euros after pulling his hamstring during a bout of shoe-slapping, stomping, horseplay.

‘I was standing behind him in case he got injured and thinking: “John! No, no, no”,’ laughed Carver. ‘But it was good because he embraced the whole situation. It was very important that we did that because, let’s face it, we are coming into the towns and we need for the hosts to see that we’re going to appreciate everything they put on for us and do for us.

‘Then we have to focus. But what an environment we are in.’

Training in the shadow of Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, the scale of the task facing the Scots in the Allianz Arena threatened to become steeper still when captain Robertson and Hearts skipper Shankland left the pitch.

Striker Dykes was ruled out of the Euros after a training-ground injury last week, a reminder to all 26 players of how quickly and easily hopes of playing at the biggest tournament of their lives could slip through their fingers.

When the stakes are this high, it helps to have a John McGinn around to lighten the mood a bit.

‘In fairness, there are a few in the group who are very good like that,’ added Carver. ‘But it is important. And the longer you stay in a tournament and go in a tournament, the more important it becomes because you are living in each other’s pockets for three, four, five weeks.

‘We have already had two weeks away if you think about it. So we need somebody to break the ice and put a smile on faces. Sometimes it is me, believe it or not.’

The SFA have done everything possible to make the squad’s spa hotel a state-of-the-art arena for professional athletes. While the weather veers with unpredictable speed from flooding to fine conditions, there really is no excuse for Scotland failing to turn up on Friday.

The final warm-up games were underwhelming. A 2-0 win over Gibraltar was a laboured affair. In the final send-off against Finland, a raft of late substitutions contributed towards the loss of a two-goal lead and a run of one win in nine games.

Scotland’s management are fond of telling people that they don’t take much notice of what’s said out there. When the real action starts, they trust this group of players to flick a switch and silence the ‘Negative Normans’, as Clarke called them.

Scotland and McGinn were 2-0 up against Finland in the final warm-up, only to draw the game

‘I get you need to go into a tournament with confidence but let’s not forget we went to Gibraltar and won 2-0 and Wales went there and drew 0-0,’ added Carver.

‘It is not an excuse, but the environment was not right because we asked for water on the pitch and they refused to put water on the pitch. It is their prerogative, but Wales had the same problems we had.

‘It slows the play down. It is a leveller. I get why they tried to do it. We won the game 2-0 and we could have won it 5-0 with the chances we had. Then, we go into the Finland game and I thought the first half was pretty even but we had plenty of possession and we came out in the second half and we upped it, which was good.

‘And we got to a period where we said we need to get these guys on the pitch and the Craig (Gordon) one was planned before.’

Even for a manager as streetwise and experienced as Clarke, the decision to rob Gordon of his last chance of playing at a major international tournament was a hard one. As hard as any decision he has made, claims Carver.

McGinn celebrates with Shankland after the Hearts skipper found the net against the Finns

‘It was probably one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make in his life in football,’ said Carver. ‘We had sleepless nights just thinking about it.’

There might be one or two more nights of counting sheep before facing a German side who’ve had a few underwhelming friendly performances of their own of late. Host nations and favourites have a habit of easing their way slowly into a tournament and Carver hopes history repeats itself here.

‘There are a few facets that you need going into the first game. But let’s hope they have a slow start,’ he added.

Slower, certainly, than John McGinn stomping around the stage in a Bavarian bunnet.

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