Former St Mirren academy manager David Longwell developed the likes of Aston Villa star John McGinn – and seeing him run out at Euro 2020 next week will be a big moment of pride for the Paisley youth system.

McGinn has enjoyed a brilliant rise from his days in the St Mirren academy, where Longwell first signed him at seven years old. He’s gone on to play for Hibs before transferring to Aston Villa in 2018, where he has now established himself as arguably Scotland’s best player heading into its first major tournament since 1998.

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Euros in sight for the Aston Villa star. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Longwell could have had two talents he developed heading to Euro 2020 if Kenny McLean – the man who scored the winning penalty to send Scotland to the Euros via a penalty shootout against Serbia – hadn’t picked up a knee injury with Norwich City. Lewis Morgan, Jason Naismith and Kyle Magennis are other players developed by Longwell.

And there’s still some of his recruited kids thriving at St Mirren under first-team manager Jim Goodwin and academy boss Allan McManus, Longwell telling NTOF: “When I was at St Mirren ,we wanted to put something long-term in place – it was years of work. We had John McGinn from age seven, all the way through the academy.

“He is where he is now. Ethan Erhahon, Dylan Reid and Jay Henderson were all players I signed back in the day. Ethan has been at St Mirren since he was five, Dylan seven. Youth coaches start it all off for these young guys. It’s great to see five or six years later that there are still guys coming through that we brought to the club.

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Erhahon is highly-thought of. (Photo by Mark Scates/SNS Group via Getty Images)

“What we had going on was remarkable for a small provincial club. It was years of dedication. It’s great to see these kids begin to follow the steps of John McGinn, Lewis Morgan and Kenny McLean.”

Longwell – now working in and around English League One club Shrewsbury Town’s first team – still keeps in touch with the likes of McGinn and McLean. McGinn spoke recently of Longwell’s teachings in Paisley, the Aston Villa midfielder clearly not forgetting where he started.

It leaves Longwell proud of the legacy he and his team created at St Mirren: “John has kicked on to an incredible level. I was adamant when the kids were younger that they had to get better with the ball. We did lots of tricks with them and lots of technical work. We played some better football than the likes of Celtic and Rangers.

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Academy progression. (Photo by James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images)

“We didn’t just kick it long and hope to win the game. Guys like John were in an environment where they had to take the ball under pressure. It’s great that he still does the same tricks and uses his big backside to wriggle his way out of things! I still speak to John regularly, he’s a top person. He comes from a great family.

 

“You can tell how well he has been educated and we just tried to drive those same standards. You can only give him the praise he deserves. It’s amazing when you look at the progression of these players. Kenny was a late developer and was released by Rangers at 15 as they didn’t think he could progress.

“He was always very good with the ball, but he just had to grow! Kenny could have went down to England before he did. It just took a little bit longer and he’s done so well at Norwich City. Everyone knew when he stepped up for that penalty (against Serbia) that he was going to score. It’s disappointing he hasn’t got the chance to play at the Euros.

“John and Kenny were identified by me and my staff at seven years old and now play at the highest level. It’s great to see these boys play at the level they are.

“But there are other boys too, Lewis Morgan is at Inter Miami in America which is incredible and there’s others playing in Scotland like Jason Naismith, Kyle Magennis, Kyle McAllister and Cammy MacPherson.”

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