A BROKEN ankle was sore enough but Scotland internationalist John McGinn joked that just as painful was the fracture of his robust reputation.

Still, it was no laughing matter for the 25-year-old back in December when he heard the loud crack of his bone snapping during a 3-1 defeat to Southampton and feared the worst for his career.

Yet, within three months the influential midfielder was on the cusp of a return to fitness only for the arrival of lockdown to dampen his plans of a return before the end of the season. Despite the frustrations, McGinn remains upbeat as Villa ease back into a return to full training with the player counting his blessings that he is in a position to think about pulling on his boots again.

“Outwith relegation with St Mirren I think it was the toughest moment of my career,” said McGinn. “It was a real hammer blow. I heard the crack and I knew right away. I did get a fright.

“And then when you see two of your team-mates, Wesley and Tom Heaton get the most horrible injury that you can get in football with the ACL and I know how tough that is because of [my brother] Stephen, well, you kind of think to yourself that you have to see how fortunate you are.

“There was definite anxiety when it happened.  I remember going straight to hospital for an X-ray and it was confirmed it was broken. But you need to wait for a scan to see how bad it is. During that period there was a real fear, and I admit to that. It was tough. Thankfully I didn’t need surgery, the break was reasonably clean. But my family and Sara, my girlfriend. will tell you I was a nightmare.”

Aside from the mental and physical anxiety that the pain caused was the frustration of a season rich with goals cut short. Prior to the injury McGinn had netted 10 goals in 26 games and looked firmly on course to hit the 20-goal mark. To frame just how notable that is needs to come with the caveat that during his time at Hibs the midfielder scored just 12 goals in 96 appearances. The reason for the jump in goals might raise a few eyebrows.

“There is a slight bit of arrogance here that you don’t get in Scotland,” explained McGinn. “You are up against some top quality players but they don’t always fancy having to track your run and they can switch off for even one moment in a game. I remember in Scotland making similar kind of runs and finding myself being booted into the stand. I have been able to capitalise on a wee bit of laziness.”

Having missed Aston Villa’s Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City at Wembley, one of McGinn’s focal points as he endured his rehab was to make it for Scotland’s European Championship play-off against israel that has been due to take place at the end of March. Put on the backburner for now, McGinn is optimistic that the enforced break will at least work to Scotland’s advantage if he can report for international duty fully fit.

“Just before the lockdown I had a very honest conversation with the manager, Steve Clarke,” said McGinn. “I told him where I was at with my injury and how I thought I was going to be touch and go. “I said I’d do whatever I could and that I’d be available for selection whether I was 20%, 30% of even 80%. So the manager knew where I was at.

“It would obviously have been his call at the end of the day, whether he was to choose me or not. But when the games eventually comes around I’m hoping I’ll be 100%. I don’t think there’s any way, realistically, I could have been 100 percent for the original date.”

In the meantime McGinn is gearing up as the English Premier League prepare for closed door games in June. But the return has not been anything close to normal.

“It has been very, very strange,” said the midfielder. “We have to go through a temperature screening when we park a few spaces apart. Then we go through a questionnaire to see how we are feeling, and then we don’t go into the changing rooms.  So it’s a bit different. I would describe it as a bit like a youth training session: it’s like when you used to rock up, your dad would drop you off, and you’d just train and go home.

“It’s pretty good the way they have set it up – it is extremely professional. We are very fortunate to get tested twice a week now, so we are probably as safe as anyone in the country right now.”

“But thankfully today they have voted through the contact, so the small group training will increase a bit, and we’ll try to get back to normality. It is important for us to adapt to it. I think the Bundesliga has had a positive affect on everyone in England and in Scotland, so hopefully the Premier League can lead the way next.”