Playing the piano, developing a ‘super strength’ and comparisons to a legend – A look at Town new boy Mark McGuinness
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town have signed Mark McGuinness on a season-long loan from Arsenal. STUART WATSON provides the lowdown on the 19-year-old centre-back.
GOLF, PIANO AND INJURY NIGHTMARE
Having been at Arsenal since the age of 10, McGuinness suffered a injury-hit nightmare first year as a scholar.
Looking back on that 2017/18 campaign in an interview with Tribuna.com, he said: “To say that last season was hit and miss for me is putting it mildly. After starting my first year as a scholar quite well, I suffered a calamity of injuries. Around August, I tore my quad which took about five months to properly heal, then in winter I tore a muscle in my shoulder. It was very frustrating.
“With the Under-16s I’d been used to playing every minute of every game. I was hoping that would continue once I stepped up to the Under-18s, but ended up only playing in one match.
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“I look back on it as learning experience. When I suffered the shoulder injury I spoke with our sports psychologist, who encouraged me to take up other sports and hobbies and spend time with family and friends. With the first injury I was getting frustrated being in the gym and not on the grass and it was difficult for me mentally.
“With the second injury, I started playing more golf and also started playing the piano, and that helped me see the bigger picture, take my mind off football and relieve the personal pressure. It worked fantastically and I also got my handicap down to 10!
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“Also, golf helped me in other ways too. It can be a very frustrating sport because a lapse in concentration can lead to a nightmare on the course, so you have to develop mentally to succeed.”
BACK WITH A BANG
All of the above certainly paid off. Upon his return to action, McGuinness enjoyed a superb 2018/19 campaign.
He starred for the Under-18s, forming a formidable central defensive partnership alongside ex Ipswich Town youngster Harry Clarke.
Arsenal had a record of W16 L2 with him in the side as they romped to the South Division title.
He was rewarded with his first professional contract in April 2018.
McGuinness furthered his growing reputation that summer by playing a key role for the Republic of Ireland at the Euro U19 Championships in Armenia.
Progressing from a group that included France, Norway and the Cezch Republic, Ireland lost to Portugal in the semi-finals.
The London-born defender – eligible to represent Ireland through his father – was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the team of the tournament.
The stage was all set for the young defender to make a step up to Arsenal’s U23s.
However, a combination of injuries and the fact that Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos was involved with Steve Bould’s side limited his chances.
Having featured in a first team pre-season friendly at Boreham Wood, McGuinness didn’t make an U23 squad until late October.
He started an EFL Trophy game at Cambridge United in November and was subbed in the 74th minute of a 1-1 draw.
After that he was limited to just four outings for the U23s either side of the turn of the year.
KICKING ON AGAIN
Just like before, McGuinness bounced back.
He started a first team friendly at MK Dons and scored a thumping header in a 4-1 win.
Then he followed that up with an outstanding display at Portman Road, captaining a young Gunners side to a comeback 2-1 win against a strong Ipswich Town outfit in the EFL Trophy a fortnight ago.
It was a performance full of desire, quality and composure, including a saving slide tackle, clearance off the line and some coolness in possession.
Blues boss Paul Lambert liked what he saw.
If you haven’t seen that header against MK Dons, do so. It’s a beauty.
Speaking in that aforementioned Tribuna.com interview, McGuinness said: “I’ve worked on a number of aspects of my game. My heading was always good but now I think it’s one of my super-strengths.
“I enjoy the physical side of the game. I’m most comfortable playing against big Troy Deeney-type strikers but have developed strategies for the smaller, nippier guys with a low centre of gravity. The agility and acceleration work we do in training has helped massively but it’s also about being clever and giving yourself a little bit of room.”
HOW TOWN GOT THEIR MAN
This deal smacks of Dave Bowman – officially the club’s director of football, but essentially the chief scout – using his superb contacts at the top end of the game.
Heavily involved with the Nike Academy, he was the man behind the previous successful Premier League loans of Ryan Fraser, Tom Lawrence, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bersant Celina.
If Town have got Bowman more heavily involved in recruitment again then that can only be a good thing.
The fact that Maitland-Niles really developed his game at Portman Road will have certainly helped with negotiations.
His size and style has led to McGuinness being labelled ‘Per Mertesacker 2.0’ by Gunners fans. The big German defender is now in charge of the London club’s academy.
McGuinness’ will to win and clear leadership qualities have also seen him compared to the legendary Tony Adams too.
Speaking in his first interview after signing for Town, he said: “I like to be the leader and take control. That’s always been a part of my game that I’ve excelled.”
Arsenal fans’ website ‘Daily Cannon’ wrote: “Compared to some of Arsenal’s other youth centre-backs, the Republic of Ireland U19 international always looks a bit more composed and commanding in the physical duels, particularly in the air. He’s also capable of a great slide tackle when necessary.”