Riley Warland was recently sharing a pitch with some of England’s finest youth talent and now he is back in Australia determined to show off what he learned.
It’s been more than 18 months since Warland returned from his spell at the academy of English Premier League club Fulham.
With a new coaching staff at Perth Glory, the 18-year-old has finally been given his opportunity at A-League level.
Since making his debut off the bench against Adelaide United in January 2021, the defender has gone to appear another four times, including two starts for the club he first joined as a nine-year-old.
“It’s a childhood dream to get on and play for your childhood club, particularly with my friends and family watching from only a few feet away,” Warland spoke exclusively to Kick360.
“It’s a surreal experience and you don’t fully embrace it until you look back and think, ‘Wow, I’ve just made my debut!’
“It was a really proud moment for myself and my family and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Fulham’s under-18s class of 2018/19 was not short on talent. Headlined by Harvey Elliott, one of the most exciting talents in English football, the squad featured several players that have since made their senior debuts at the top levels of English football.
Since returning to Australia, Warland has kept tabs on the progress of some of his former teammates, including Elliott, who has since earned a move to Liverpool.
“Harvey and I were good mates!” Warland exclaimed.
“He’s doing well, he’s killing it and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
One of the biggest challenges Warland faced in England was getting his head around the adverse weather conditions, something the born-and-bred Western Australian boy was far from used to.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” admitted Warland.
“At such a young age, you’re coming from such a beautiful country in Australia, where you have sun every day and the heat.
“Then you transition to days where you’re waking up in the dark and then coming home in the dark!
“It was a crazy experience but something I definitely had to do at such a young age.”
Then there was the step up in the quality of players around Warland.
He was competing against some of England’s best academy hopefuls, at a higher physical and technical level than he had been used to previously.
“It’s a far more physical league, it’s a lot quicker and technically everyone’s touch is there, described Warland.
“It sharpens up your own game too, but I did struggle in the first few training sessions.
“After that I grew into it and got into my groove.
“You’ve got to be a confident player and hold your own when you’re overseas.”
Heading back to Perth in October 2019, Warland faced a challenging few months readjusting to the Australian game and trying to impress a new coaching staff.
“It wasn’t so much a step backwards, but it was difficult to transition back into the Australian way of playing football,” continued Warland.
“The ball tempo was something I needed to get used to again for example.
“It was a different coach at the time, and everyone has their own opinion of other players.
“I was working hard but unfortunately never got the opportunity, but I couldn’t let that get me down.”
Faced with a no obvious future at the club, Warland departed along with several other academy products to ECU Joondalup, where he would work alongside former boss Kenny Lowe.
“Kenny was my first ever A-League coach, and he gave me my first opportunities to go on the bench, explained Warland.
“Once he called me, I didn’t second guess.
“His ability to coach allows me to believe him and he’s helped me a lot on my journey.
“It was a good one season there and we won the league – you can’t ask for much more than that!”
At Joondalup, Warland was with two former teammates in Luke Bodnar and Callum Timmins, who had all been left frustrated with their lack of first team opportunities at Perth Glory. However, all three of them were handed another opportunity at the top level when Richard Garcia took the reigns as head coach of the senior team.
“Once it [the coaching staff] all changed, we all got asked to come back,” said Warland.
“You jump at any chance to get back to this level and now we had a coach in Richie Garcia who we could believe in.
“I made the right decision, and I couldn’t be happier with where I am at right now.”
Warland appears to enjoy having a coach that he can trust to give him the opportunities to thrive. He had that with Lowe, and now again he has that with Garcia. He also enjoys the fact that, like himself, Garcia has risen through the ranks at the club to the senior level, although in a different capacity.
“I had him at youth level before and it’s helped having that connection now that he is the first team coach,” said Warland.
“It’s great to see someone like that go from youth coach to first team coach, so I am really happy for him.
“He’s definitely helped us young boys a lot by giving us chances.
“We can only reward him back by giving him our hardest for the team and that’s what we have got to do.”
With a few more senior appearances under his belt, Warland has one eye on a return to Europe to finish what he started. He feels better equipped with the experience he has gained, both from that season abroad, and his time playing senior football in Australia.
“That’s any boys dream, to play in Europe,” exclaimed Warland.
“I’ve been settled back in Australia for a while now, but I think the opportunity might come back around sooner rather than later.
“You never know what’s going to happen in football, you just have to give 100% to everything you do.”
“Having that experience from the previous time I went over, even from what the weather and the people are like, it’ll help me a lot if I go again.”
“If that’s what I want to do then I will be back in Europe in no time.”
Image credit – Perth Glory/Getty