Australia reaping rewards of Reds rookies
Bag them all you like, but Riley McGree’s Socceroos call-up shows Adelaide United’s board and management is doing something right.
At just 18, McGree’s selection in a 30-man preliminary squad for Australia’s two vital World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and the United Arab Emirates this month came as a surprise, even to the teenager himself.
Having played just 12 A-League games and three in the Asian Champions League, McGree thought the call from the Socceroos team manager was a prank call.
He was even more surprised to keep his spot when the squad was cut to 23 this week.
But the youngster has shown glimpses of what he could be in his short professional career.
Poise, a good passing range, strength on the ball, determination to win it back – I could go on about the positives in his game.
But perhaps I’ll just share a brief story about what made me warm to Riley McGree.
I didn’t know a lot about the teenager when he played his first few games for Adelaide United.
I had read that he was from Gawler and knew he was young, but I wanted to know more about the kid who had been named to start against Sydney FC earlier this season after missing six games.
I asked a club insider about McGree.
“He’s the kind of person who is first at training and last to leave,” this person said.
“He helps set up and he picks up the balls and cones at the end of training.”
“He’s modest, thoughtful and he knows his place in the team, but best of all he wants to learn so he is always listening.”
There are a number of younger players in the squad for the Reds, and this person felt some could learn from the quietly spoken teenager.
Looking at Ange Postecoglou’s 30-man initial squad, it struck me that McGree was not the only one who had come through the Adelaide United set-up that was in the national team calculations.
Tomi Juric, Craig Goodwin, Matthew Leckie, Jimmy Jeggo, Nathan Burns and Awer Mabil were also named in the 30.
That Burns, Goodwin and Mabil dropped out when the side was cut to 23 doesn’t matter.
Seven out of 30 were either current or former Adelaide United players.
Throw Eugene Galekovic, Tarek Elrich and Stefan Mauk into the mix and you have 10 current or former Reds players who have had a taste of international football in recent times.
The most exciting thing is that of the current or recent Reds in the mix for national selection - Goodwin, Mauk, Mabil, Jeggo and McGree in particular – they are all young, and more importantly, bar Jeggo, they are all South Australian.
Say what you will about the off-season recruitment by Adelaide United, but in recent years the football department has gone after good young talent and the coaches have nurtured those talented youngsters and given them the opportunity to play in the A-League.
Mauk was only with the Reds for a short time but like McGree, he got his chance to play and play regularly.
More to the point, they have been given the opportunity to play with freedom and express themselves.
Credit must be given to both recent Football Directors, Michael Petrillo (before he left for Melbourne City) and to Ante Kovacevic – as well as to both recent coaches Josep Gombau and Guillermo Amor.
In some ways their hands have been forced into blooding youngsters, but they have trusted them and the results have been noticed by Postecoglou and Gombau in his new role as the coach of the Olyroos.
Jeggo, Mabil, Mauk and McGee have been surrounded by talented players like Isaias, Marcelo Carrusca and Bruce Djite - to name a few – and that has paid dividends in their development.
Adelaide United is unlikely to be able to compete for sponsors with Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Sydney FC.
The Reds won’t challenge for the title as often as the Big Blues, nor will they attract some of the bigger names that a team in Sydney or Melbourne might.
But, the team from Adelaide can take heart that it is currently doing much more to further the game in this country than any of those sides by giving young players a shot and developing them.
Adelaide United is being seen as a development club and the club stands to benefit financially from on-selling these players to bigger clubs overseas.
What it needs to do though is invest that money back into the squad to ensure it remains competitive.