In 2017, the USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned one of their ‘Hurricane Hunter’ planes to travel through the path of Hurricane Irma to collect the wind-speed of the hurricane as well as various other statistics held in importance by meteorologists. Fighting against the speedy winds and bullets of rain, the propellors forced the plane through on its dive towards the centre of the storm, or the eye or the storm. Water streaked along the windows, and the vehicle stood balanced in the air, held between the sea and the sky by turbulence.
It rattled and dropped. It tilted and swayed. The whipping winds battered the speared nose of the plane. After spending what seemed to be hours heading towards the centre of a grey, wet hell, sunlight seared the fog from the windscreen, and the banshee howl of the gale faded into a calm nothingness. The plane floated, serenely, for untouched moments. It had arrived.
There is calm in the eye of the storm - but it’s not a real calm. The storm does not stand still and has no master. It moves, and takes the eye with it. To occupy space in the eye of the storm is to occupy dangerous real estate. There is tranquil peace, but one that comes with the promise of devastation.
36 minutes into Aston Villa’s encounter with Norwich City on the weekend, their number seven in midfield, John McGinn, showed a measure of calm in a hectic gamestate to carefully trap the ball and bamboozle his opponent, sliding past with a quick sleight of hand before rushing forwards. It’s the highlight reel clip by it’s very definition - a player capturing a moment all by themselves.
For Aston Villa, John McGinn is bottled lightning. Just snap the cap off and let him out. The style of McGinn is defined by gut-busting runs, the weighted balance of an expert handler of the human body, destruction, and grace. This became clear in Aston Villa’s match-up with Norwich, and the polar opposites of playing style marshalled by McGinn were never more prevalent than in his ninety minutes. He is both a rudimentary throwback and a stylistic innovator. He is a contradiction. He throws his elbows and backside around like a windmilling child in the midst of a tantrum. He jinks and slides like the video game footballer, preening on the plasticky cover of a case.
It only took just two minutes for John McGinn to send a shiver down the spine of the home crowd at Carrow Road. Stealing in from the flank, McGinn pounced as the ball sprayed loose following a high challenge. He streamed into the box, driving the ball forward before flicking the it past the post - and the stretching glove of the goalkeeper. A mass sigh of relief broke into the air, while the frustrated Aston Villa players who had piled into the box held their hands up in disbelief - a chance on goal drying up due to the actions of their number seven who had chosen a shot over creating a clear-cut chance. Throughout their moans, McGinn carried on his spring, tailed off and returned to find the opportunity to do it again.
Before that, against Burnley, where McGinn’s first goal was disallowed due to an offside position in the direct build-up to it, he kept his cool - waiting to score again before unleashing a torrent of earned petulance at the officiating system that had struck him off. McGinn’s message was less ‘I have scored and you can’t stop me’ and more ‘how dare you contain me?’
For Statsbomb, Grace Robertson observed the measurables of McGinn’s early season in an article on ‘statistically unusual players’. If you were to threaten a Villa fan with violence (don’t do that), and force them into the awful position of having to properly critique their fan favourite - they would reach the same conclusion that Statsbomb did. Grace, herself, picked out the key complaint of Aston Villa fans - in that McGinn drives forward and makes bad decisions when he arrives at his destination. For a midfielder, he doesn’t pass too often, a direct result of his approach to the game - smash-and-grab.
When McGinn receives the ball, he drives forward with telegraphed purpose. He crouches and swings his elbows, blowing his way through standing opponents. When he passes, he launches satellites into the orbit of another player. When he runs, he runs. When he passes, he passes.
If you catch my drift?
On a graph, and with the backing of a talented analyst, McGinn is a clear force of a nature, and one that we do not need a bespoke plane equipped with meteorological instruments to record. He is presented on Saturday at 3pm, and like clockwork, he begins his act again. He wins the ball, sprints forward and bursts a shot out of goal. McGinn flips the game board, he rips away the fog - he burrows through like the storm and leaves devastation in his wake. Sometimes he disappoints his claret-clad comrades, mostly he disappoints a sunken opposition, leaving them a-gasp and wondering what they have done wrong.
McGinn is a storm.
With the privilege of distance, we can observe the hurricane - and remark upon it as a item of beauty. When observed through the safety of space, or an internet browser, they appear to be nothing more than cloudy pockmarks on the planet - cycling through a path. Villa fans admire John McGinn for his many outstanding qualities and will rightly hold their tongue when it comes to the major critique. McGinn, for the passionate follower, is a gem to be held close and guarded. Villa Head Coach Dean Smith probably realises that truth as well. The truth that the storm can not be contained, nor challenged - it just simply needs to be observed, and feared.
We’ll do the observing - the others can do the fearing.