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Opinion

Riley McGree finally sheds the jinx of Joyce

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4th November, 2019
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Like many A-League fans, my observations of Warren Joyce’s Melbourne City reign were formed from some distance.

I live in Sydney, have never met him personally and watched and listened from afar as the rumblings of dissatisfaction grew louder and louder the longer his tenure continued. On the pitch it was clear that his risk-averse tendencies hurt the team’s chances of success.

After a long and respectable playing career, Joyce’s managerial stocks appeared to be growing after working within Manchester United’s system and coaching their reserves team. With ample resources, funds and playing talent from which to choose and with a growing reputation as a competent manager, Joyce loomed on the City Football Group’s radar when Melbourne City required a mentor for the 2017/18 season.

Statistically the 54-year-old won 29 of 64 A-League matches, lost almost as many and was eventually dumped at the completion of the 2018/19 season. He built a nervous and stunted team that played inconsistent, bland and spineless football.

Joyce’s time in Australia will eventually become a mere blip in the annals of A-League history. With the arrival of Erick Mombaerts, there is already a feeling that it will not take long for City fans to move on from the bad times while enjoying a far more positive and promising team on the pitch.

As insignificant as the Englishman may seem in the future, his time proved damaging to one of Australia’s best and brightest talents and reminded all Australian football fans of the importance of local talent finding opportunities that encourages development.

Riley McGree appeared to be no fan of Warren Joyce’s approach to the game, his tactics, or the manager’s apparent lack of faith in him.

Riley McGree

(Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The South Australian 21-year-old exploded onto the domestic scene with Adelaide United in 2016. There was just one goal in his kit bag after 17 appearances, but Belgium’s Club Brugge saw what was fairly obvious to all bar blind Freddy and McGree headed to Europe.

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Despite learning and developing off the pitch, influenced by quality coaching and astute thinkers, he was soon missing what so many young Australians do once they leave our shores: mountains of top-flight professional minutes.

A midseason loan to the Newcastle Jets in December 2017 saw McGree produce the goal that digitally traversed the globe. The famous scorpion kick contained all the brash fearlessness we had come to expect from him and suggested that the Socceroos could well and truly have a generational player on their hands.

A full season on loan at Melbourne City in 2018/19 became the next challenge. After starting in 12 of City’s first 13 matches, McGree was benched by Joyce for eight of the last 13. As part of the stodgy and often impotent City attack, McGree scored on seven occasions yet seemed unhappy, unenthused and uninspired.

One of the most brazen youngsters on the local scene became a product of the rampant conservatism of his English manager, looking nothing like the man who had previously made so many people excited about his play.

It appears McGree is a smart cookie. Signing a three-year deal with the Reds back in his home state might just prove to be the smartest thing he has ever done. His early-season form seems to endorse the decision.

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Adelaide have looked bright under new manager Gertjan Verbeek. Much time and energy was invested in their FFA Cup defence and eventual triumph, and there was some distraction from the opening rounds of the A-League.

Gertjan Verbeek.

(VI Images via Getty Images)

Enjoying a short break and a bye in Round 4, the Reds have produced just the one win to this point – a comeback victory against the Jets in Round 3 – yet already we are witnessing a happier and free-spirited McGree, bubbling and bouncing around the pitch in the strip he first wore proudly as a teenager.

Most notably, McGree already has three goals to his name this season. I enjoyed Andy Harper’s comments after the youngster’s 49th-minute equaliser against the Jets. There was true passion in his voice as he celebrated the effort, citing simply that popping up more consistently and finding goals from midfield was the weapon McGree most needed to hone.

There was also a sense that should Adelaide’s favourite son be able to sharpen that tool, the A-League could have a domestic player with the talent to compete for a Johnny Warren Medal one day.

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Right now, McGree just needs to play football and lots of it. A long stint in Adelaide with 60-plus solid games under his belt will be rewarded with time in the national colours.

That is ultimately the end game for the boy from Gawler: a role in the next three World Cup campaigns for the Socceroos. Should he now flourish and reach his potential, there is little doubt he will play some role in that journey.