After a fairly uneventful first year at Birmingham City, Riley McGree has finally cemented a spot in the Blues starting XI.
McGree, who is currently in his second loan spell at Birmingham, joined the team at the start of the 20/21 campaign after signing for MLS expansion club Charlotte FC.
During his first season at St Andrews, the midfielder took part in 15 games (scoring one goal), starting only eight of them and accumulating 735 minutes. Four months into the new season he has already played more minutes (883′) across 12 first-team games and has scored more league goals (two).
The ex-Adelaide and Newcastle man missed out on the first few matchday squads due to his involvement in the Tokyo Olympics with the Olyroos. But since the start of October, he has been an ever-present in the XI and arguably one of the best players on the pitch.
Asked at the start of November if McGree will stay beyond this year, head coach Lee Bowyer said: “No. I don’t think so. Not that I am told – apparently he is going back.
“Yes, that’s a blow. There are lots of blows at the minute – we are running out of players.
“Riley has taken his opportunity. With me, if you work hard and care about the club and the team you’re playing for, you’ll always have a chance of playing.
“Riley’s been superb. He hasn’t played much but now that we need him, he’s stepped up and performed, which every player should do.”
That news has come as something of a cold shower for Birmingham fans who were desperate to see McGree stay after he impressed again on Saturday against Blackpool.
One of the main reasons it seems unlikely that McGree will make his loan stay a permanent one is the delicate financial situation that the club find themselves in. Multiple reports from England suggest that they have debts amounting to more than £120 million and have mortgaged their stadium to a third party.
Simply put, Birmingham cannot afford to keep him.
Another man who would love to see the young midfielder staying in West Midlands is Australia’s national team coach Graham Arnold.
Arnold has previously stated that it would be best if he stayed in England and continue his development in a tough league like the Championship; Something which could also help him secure a spot in the Socceroos starting XI.
The 23-year-old is currently fighting for a spot in the lineup with the likes of Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, and Ajdin Hrustic. Some very stiff competition, with all three having a lot of international experience, but if he keeps it up McGree has a decent chance of making it into the team.
The Gawler-born Socceroo is a complex player who could operate in a couple of positions and offer something different to the other midfielders in the squad.
He’s a better presser than Hrustic and Rogic and a bigger threat from wide areas compared to Mooy. These are all qualities that could prove very important in the coming vital World Cup qualifiers in January and February.
One thing that may become a problem is the fact that his loan move ends on the 31st of December. This means that McGree won’t play a single competitive game across January ahead of the game with Vietnam.
Arnold has shown before that he is reluctant to start players who are lacking match fitness, but if he continues to perform like this, the Birmingham starlet could turn out to be too good to ignore.