Why Birmingham City fans want to kidnap ‘superb’ Socceroo Riley McGree

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Riley McGree has recently experienced a Renaissance of his career when it seemed that he would be another promising Aussie to be swallowed up by the ruthless European football environment.

There’s always a danger that when a player leaves the safety and security of Australian football, that they will not be given the same attention and care when it comes to fostering their own development.

Foreign clubs don’t have the same pressures to play their Aussie signings and it’s why many would like to see players remain in Australia until they are all but guaranteed first team football.

McGree is an example of what patience and persistence can do for you and that as challenging as it might be, hard work will pay off.

Still only 23, the Gawler-native has been on the scene since he established himself as a first team player with Adelaide United in the 2016-17 season. This alerted overseas clubs to the promising midfielder’s attacking qualities and a move to Belgian giants, Club Brugge, transpired.

After failing to force his way into the first team in Belgium, he went on loan to the Newcastle Jets -where he went viral with his Puskas Award nominated scorpion kick goal – and then Melbourne City.

Eventually, he made a permanent move back to Adelaide United. It was a familiar path for many players and one could be forgiven for thinking he was just another to get chewed up and spat out by the ruthless nature of European football.

However, McGree didn’t look to just come back and rest on his laurels where he could be content being a perennial star in the Aleague mens. He used his time at United to remind everyone what a special talent he was.

An incredible return of 10 goals in 23 games where his general attacking play was as valuable as any player in the league. He was surgical with his passing in the final third and his shot had to be respected by defenders.

This form didn’t bode well for a long stay back at his hometown club. Newly-announced MLS expansion club, Charlotte FC, came in for McGree. Due to Charlotte not joining the MLS until the 2022 season, they loaned him to Birmingham City in the English Championship.

Things didn’t get off to a great start for McGree at Birmingham. Most of his appearances were off the bench and he rarely got a succession of matches. FotMob, a football app which gives live results and rates player performance, gave McGree an average of 6.54 out of ten for the 20/21 season. He did show enough to have the loan extended for the current season and he’s more than repaid that faith.

“Riley has taken his opportunity,” Birmingham manager Lee Bowyer told BT Sport in early November.

“When you get the opportunity – a start or off the bench – I want you to grab it.

“Riley’s been superb. He hasn’t played much but now that we need him, he’s stepped up and performed for the team.”

On the weekend vs Cardiff, McGree had arguably his best match since going to England. He set up two goals and made the Skybet Championship Team of the Week. His assist for the first goal was a measured pass to veteran striker Troy Deeney who beat a defender before slotting it home.

The second assist was a lovely ball across the box to Ivan Sunjić after he was played in by Deeney. This season FotMob have him averaging 7.32 and his weekend performance earnt him his highest ranking since joining The Blues, 8.9.

He’s already played more minutes in the league than he did last season and it’s not even the halfway point of the season. He now has the belief of his manager and the fans. However, his success might just be bittersweet for both him and Birmingham because he’s due to return to his MLS team in January.

McGree told Birmingham World he was “living the dream.”

Riley Mcgree of Birmingham City urges the away supporters to stop throwing bottles onto the pitch during the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Birmingham City at MKM Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Hull, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Riley McGree has made a big impact at Birmingham City. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

“As an Australian footballer you want to come to Europe and play football – that’s the ultimate goal.”

Bowyer recently said the club were trying all they could to keep him but Charlotte FC have been monitoring his success and are keen for him to return.

Birmingham City fans will also miss McGree and have taken to social media lamenting the impending loss of their newly-found star. Some have even contemplated “creative” ways to keep their man from leaving, from buying him with crypto currency to kidnapping.

It’s a testament to McGree’s hard work and positive attitude that he didn’t let setbacks be anything more than challenges to overcome. It has no doubt made him a better person and player that will not only be important for whichever club he joins but also his nation, who could do with his attacking talents in the final third.

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