McGree catching Arnold’s eye as Socceroos door cracks open

Riley McGree of Birmingham City (C) dribbles past Elias Kachunga of Sheffield Wednesday Source: Getty Images

Australia coach Graham Arnold believes Riley McGree is perfectly placed to push his Socceroos claims after making a fast start to his season-long loan with Birmingham City.

The Olyroos skipper has yet to pick up a senior cap, but a stretch of matches for the Championship club will change all that ahead of an expected resumption of FIFA World Cup qualification action in March.

McGree, 21, has made three appearances - scoring against Preston on his full debut - since arriving in the Midlands from parent club Charlotte FC, the North Carolina-based franchise not expected to join the MLS until 2022's expansion.

McGree came off the bench in the 64th minute overnight as the mid-table Blues lost 2-1 at home to Wycombe Wanderers.

“First impressions count for a lot in football and Riley has done well in his first few games,” Arnold said of the ex-Adelaide United prodigy.

“Great that he scored at the weekend with a great finish.

It’s the start of a long journey overseas for him.

“He has the potential and the opportunity to play a lot more games over there, possibly up to 40 in the season.

“He’s at an age where he’s still developing and what’s important is that he keeps working hard and playing.”

After being unable to break through at Club Brugge in his initial overseas foray in 2017, McGree has matured and remains a work in progress with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar the next logical step after next year’s rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“The Championship is a very good level for Riley to kick on,” said Arnold.

“There are some excellent coaches there and a lot of the Premier League teams loan their younger players there for their development.

“Most importantly for Riley he’s going from 26 rounds a season in the A-League to 40 or more in England and that’s a great thing for him.”

Preston North End v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Riley McGree of Birmingham City (R) and Daniel Johnson of Preston North End compete for the ball
Getty Images

Australia top their qualification group with four wins from four, but haven’t played for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have been discussions at AFC at staging games in a south-east Asian hub when the program resumes in March, with the Socceroos still to face return matches against Kuwait, Nepal, Chinese Taipei and Jordan.

“At the moment the national team hasn’t played for a year and I can’t control their fitness levels,” said Arnold.

“The most crucial thing is that our Socceroos players are getting minutes, no matter what league they’re in.

“We have players with great technique or they wouldn’t be in the national team.

“But it’s all about being in match rhythm when players come into camp for us.

“Tactically Australian players have shown they can adapt to many different systems and mentally we have a group of players who will always fight for each other and believe in each other.

“I’d love the Socceroos to play every week but you can probably align our situation with Qantas right now.

“If there’s no international travel then you can’t play. And at the moment they can’t fly.

“We just have to wait and see what the AFC does, and whatever they throw at us we’ll be ready.

“I had a zoom meeting with the boys last week, and you feel so good afterwards because they’re all talking about how much they miss playing for the national team.”