A-League: Jets sign young gun but his arrival delayed by ‘nothing’tournament

DONE DEAL: Teenage whiz kid Riley McGree (centre) will join the Jets on-loan from Club Brugge for the remainder of the A-League campaign. Picture: AAP ImagesNEWCASTLE have secured midfiedler Riley McGree on loan from ClubBrugge but the teenage whiz kid will not play for his new club until late January because ofcommitments with the Australian under-23’s in a tournament that Jets coach Ernie Merrick believes serves no purpose.
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Asreported by The Herald on Monday, McGree will join the Jets for the remainder of their A-League campaign as an injury replacement for Jake Adelson.

The 19-year-old returned to Adelaide from Belgium on Monday and will be in Newcastle next week for testing.

However, he and new teammate Nick Cowburn will head to China on January 3 with the Australianside to contest the under-23 Asian Football Confederation Championships.

The Jets duo are among 15 A-League players in the squad. Joe Champness, Ivan Vujica and Lachlan Jackson are on standby.

The final of the tournament, which is being held outside a FIFA international window, is on January 27. If Australia progress to the top four, the players will miss five A-League games.

The tournament is not a part of the qualifying cycle for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Merrick questioned its value.

“For me it is a tournament that means nothing,” Merrick said. “I coached a Hong Kong side at this tournament and it is a very average tournament. It doesn’t seem sensible to take players away for as much as five A-League games. To me it would have made more sense to take good quality players who are on the fringes of the first team, but not getting a game. They would have benefited andwe would have benefited.

“If it was a qualifying tournamentor crucial to preparing for the next Olympics, I would understand, this is neither.”

Australian under-23 coach Ante Milicic, who did not select more than three players from any club,said the tournament would provide experience at a significant international competition.

Merrick disagreed.

“It is time we respected FIFA windows and it’s time we respected A-League clubs, given the amount of money the owners are investing,” he said. “Weare continually being compromised by tournaments that aren’t that worthwhile.”

Merrick is looking forward to McGree’s contribution to the second-placed Jets when he returns from China.

“Riley is an exciting young player who will offer a lot to our side,” Merrick said. “He likes to getforward, he can play wide but he can also play in a holding role – he gives us plentyof options.What I particularly like about him is that he is very good one-on-one in tight areas in the middle of the ground.”

“He’s at one of the biggest clubs in the Belgian First Division and I think just beingaround that sort of environment after his last season (in the A-League) will only be ofbenefit.”

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