Scotland boss Steve Clarke paid tribute to John McGinn ahead of his 50th appearance for his country, saying he was “indebted” to the midfielder’s contribution.
McGinn notched his 14th international goal in the 3-0 win over Ukraine on Wednesday night with the Aston Villa midfielder’s importance for his country as evident as ever at Hampden Park, and now the 27-year-old looks certain to reach his half-century against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday evening.
Clarke has made him a near ever-present in recent years – McGinn played every minute of Scotland’s ultimately doomed Euro 2020 campaign, and started all but one of the 11 World Cup qualifying games for this year’s tournament in Qatar.
There have been few better performers for the Scotland boss during his time in charge, and he paid tribute to his trusted vice-captain ahead of this weekend’s Nations League game.
“You’ve just got to look at his contributions, his goalscoring record and assists,” he said. “He can play different midfield positions, and brings his own bubbly, bright personality into the group.
“He’s a key member of the squad on and off the pitch, and I think he enjoys it when I push him a little bit further forward to have the chance to make those goals and assists. It works well for us, it has worked well for us, and I’m indebted to John for a lot of the good wins we’ve had because he’s got the goals or the assists.
“Hopefully he can keep it going, and get to 100 caps, and get a few more goals and assists along the way.”
Scotland jumped above Ukraine and into top spot in their Nations League group following Wednesday’s big win, meaning they are now safe from relegation to League C and, if Armenia can do them a favour in Saturday’s other game, could seal their progression up to the top-tier of the competition with a win at Hampden this weekend.
Clarke told reporters he did not want to think about the possibilities of what that could bring – including a more preferential seeding in next month’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw – but did point to the fact that his side would win Group B1 if they do the double over Ukraine on Tuesday, regardless of what happens against Ireland.
“I spoke before about being in a position now where going into playing Ukraine in Poland, we’ll have a chance to top the group,” he said. “But at the moment, all we’ve achieved is that we can’t get relegated from the group.
“We have to treat the Ireland game as well as we treated the Ukraine game, and make sure we go to play them feeling as good about ourselves and looking for what would then be a point to qualify. We can get carried away thinking about what we could achieve, but let’s just concentrate on the next game and take the next step forward.”
McGinn: I’ve got my eyes on top scorer list
McGinn’s club career has rarely brought him a significant number of goals, as his tally of around one in 10 attests, but for his country it has been a different matter entirely – with a record of better than one goal every three games since opening his account in 2019.
That strike rate has already put him joint-ninth on the all-time Scotland scorers list, and five more would put him in the top-five for his country across history – something the Aston Villa man keeps a closer eye on than some of his international colleagues.
“It’s surreal, especially when in my first 15 caps there was no goals or assists,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s been a crazy few years, one I’ve loved. Everyone loves scoring, especially for their country – so I know where I am in the table, I’m a bit of a weirdo when it comes to that, and I’ve got my eyes on the players above.
“I’d have laughed at [the idea of playing 50 games] when I started. It’s been a crazy journey, and if selected on Saturday then getting 50 caps would be beyond my wildest dreams. Just one cap was enough for me, being Scottish, and brought up watching all the Scotland games.
“It’ll be a huge moment personally to captain my country in Robbo’s absence and get a huge milestone.”