David Longwell brought through two of Scotland’s finest talents during his days as St Mirren academy chief. Despite concerns over their physical development, he knew they were something special.

It always worked. A young John McGinn - almost to the point of excess - keeps on dropping his shoulder and chopping the ball with his left foot against Celtic in an under-12 fixture at Garscube.

Time after time with the same result. It simply never failed and left coaches convinced of a possible future in professional football, even if nothing could ever be guaranteed. It turns out they were right.

Some years later and it’s his black-and-white clad team-mate, Kenny McLean, taking centre stage in Ayrshire as he scores an outrageous attempt from the halfway line in an under-18 contest.

One of the most elegant footballers in the national team, even from an early age McLean had the poise and ability making him an obvious candidate for progression to the St Mirren first team.

Surely then, things must have been pretty straightforward for the now Scotland double act with iconic standout moments before even signing a first professional contract? Wrong.

Instead, in a now unthinkable version of events, both players could easily have fallen out of the cut-throat world of football development with complex growth and mobility issues threatening to end any shot of truly making it.

Fortunately, academy chief David Longwell – who signed both players for the Paisley club – had the patience and motivation to guide and mould McGinn and McLean into international icons.

"It was just growth, that was all it was,” says Longwell of McGinn’s struggles to rise through the ranks as his body grew at contrasting intervals.

"He did really well up until 14 or 15. Now, it wasn't that he hadn't grown, it was just that part of his body grew, but a part didn't, so he was really struggling to move and that was the hardest point for him, that his body wouldn't let him do what his mind wanted to do.

"But then in fairness, what John has done is use it to make him better. Johann Cruyff said that about adversity, to use it to your advantage.

"I think that John definitely did that. He's had adversity at different points, it wasn’t an easy development path for him.

"Even before his mum was saying, ‘would it not better he just goes and plays with his school and grassroots?’ but we were never going to do that because he had the potential to do something.

"It was just we had the patience at the time. I think a lot of clubs would have let him go to be fair because he was just struggling at that point but for a club of our size we thought we'd be patient with him and work with him because of what he had produced before to see once he gets through this growth and his body settles what could he be?”

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McLean didn’t have the same issue at St Mirren, but only became available to Longwell and his staff after being released by Rangers due to concerns over his stature.

"When Kenny came in there was a scout that worked for me, Ian Currie, and he said he wanted to bring this boy in who Rangers were letting go,” recalled Longwell who is now academy manager at Burnley. "Rangers felt at the time that he was a bit too small, scrawny and couldn't run. However, it's all down to opinions, isn't it?

"He was very, very smooth on the eye, Kenny. He would have been 14 and I asked to sign him after one session because he had ability. He was just so graceful.”

Physical concerns were just the first inexplicable link that forever entwines McGinn and McLean – one which goes beyond the cursory comparisons of their nationality, Scottish Premiership careers and subsequent moves to England where they both achieved promotion from the Championship to the Premier League.

The pair – who celebrated a Scottish League Cup triumph at St Mirren in 2013 together – have gone on to become seemingly ever-present squad members for Scotland under Steve Clarke.

And while much of it comes from personal dedication and self-improvement, important grounding was found in Longwell’s tutelage from seven and 14 years old respectively.

The youth development expert – who counts Orlando City, New York Red Bulls and Shrewsbury in his previous employers – chuckles as McGinn’s fondness of his time playing grassroots is referenced with particular homage to the perhaps more industrial than illustrious Feegie [Ferguslie] Park.

"I was really high on trying to get young kids in and develop them,” explains Longwell of McGinn’s introduction to the St Mirren pre-academy scheme as a seven year old. “He was in Clydebank, John. He played for a little team out there but because my coach Andy Hogg knew him, he brought him in to me way back in the day.

"I developed little St Mirren teams that would play locally. I remember at the time a lot of the boys' clubs weren't happy but I had to try and do something to develop these relationships that you don't lose players.

"John was still playing with his wee grassroots team and playing with us until there was such times that we could actually sign him in Scotland which was under-11.

"I had these little teams before it that would play locally or now and again play another pro team. The hardest thing was just trying to stop certain clubs just taking them.”

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McGinn was in at St Mirren from ground level and practically embedded in football culture with older brothers Stephen and Paul also enjoying successful careers in the game. He was an undeniable talent amongst his grassroots team-mates with an evident and evolving football brain.

Further, he was simply fearless, perhaps in part to being “boshed about” by his older brothers in the back garden but McGinn was battle-hardened from the moment he could lace his own boots, with Longwell vividly recalling his undaunted aerial prowess more akin to a rugged centre-half than a primary schooler. And as for the aforementioned great Cruyff, McGinn embodied him in an unforgettable youth encounter as Longwell watched from the sidelines.

He explained: “When he was young he was an exceptional talent. John would just see a pass that other kids wouldn't have seen. He had unbelievable awareness.

“He always had that left foot chop. I just remember myself and Andy taking him against Celtic up at Garscube. I remember him playing, it was under-12 and every time John would dip his shoulder, chop inside and it worked every time. I always remember things like that.

“We used to match Rangers and Celtic which is no easy feat and would beat them at times. He always had real high levels of awareness and ability.

"I always remember as well, he was courageous, John, brave and would go and win headers and you'd think, 'My God, where has that come from?'”

Despite McGinn’s aforementioned battle with physical struggles with somewhat stunted growth creating a challenge for his body to even keep up with his own mind, the Scotland vice-captain never shirked responsibility to make the best of a bad situation, even discussing the matter with Longwell as he moved to Aston Villa.

"He's obviously developed into an incredible football player. I remember talking to him when he went down to Villa, he realised how much more work he had to do physically,” said Longwell.

"His body, that was never John's body. He's worked so hard to create that physical specimen! He's massive.

"He was just a small kid from Clydebank so deserves an awful lot of plaudits and credit. His work ethic and humility are standouts, that's why he is where he is.

"He uses his body, he uses his well-renowned backside. He's learned that from a young age.

"It's just amazing to see how well he has done. When he scores for Scotland I laugh, he's scored again! It's just unbelievable, it's great to see.”

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For McLean, it took just one short session for Longwell to be convinced he deserved time to develop in Paisley. And Longwell’s gut instinct was once more proven correct as the midfielder progressed to become one of the most technically proficient players to leave through the academy gates.

“"It's interesting he's been playing centre-back with Norwich because trying to get him to defend back in the day wasn't easy!

"It just shows you how much he has matured. He had really, really good ability.

"I remember playing Kilmarnock away in an 18s game and he was scoring from the halfway line, he had that sort of ability level.

"He was a very, very good football player. The only thing with Kenny, I thought he could have went to England before he did.”

Time is a precious commodity in modern football and one which could have stopped both McGinn and McLean from becoming international regulars preparing for this summer’s Euros in Germany.

Having shadowed each other’s careers in a curiously similar yet different evolution from teens to team-mates, McGinn and McLean will both be desperate for the next bond to be written in the history books as Scotland squad-mates in the finals this summer.

"John and Kenny are different people but they have both done really, really well,” said Longwell. “It's a good example of being patient with John but then looking at somebody who maybe got released from another club that maybe just needs a little bit more time as well.

"It's not easy, there is no criticism when clubs do that. Clubs have got so many kids sometimes that you have just got to make a decision and what's not for one is for the other. "For St Mirren to bring through two players that are playing internationally regularly is unbelievable.”

And for Longwell, well, there’s every chance he’ll be celebrating one of his former players being involved in another huge moment for their country – it’d be no real surprise having watched them do it for so long.

"I've kept in touch with them over the years,” said Longwell beaming with pride. “I’ve spoken more with John than Kenny over the years. He never changes, John.

"What they have done in the Scotland group is incredible.

"The team that Scotland has got, to me it just looks like a club team the way that Steve Clarke has got them together.

"It's just pleasing to see. With John, the amount of goals he scores and I know Kenny is a bit more in and out the Scotland team but the great thing is he is still involved and still plays.

"There have been so many big moments where they have stepped up which doesn't really surprise me because when they were younger they've always been involved in big moments.

"I think because they have got quality, they have got the composure and football IQ that maybe other players don't.”