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Socceroos Strain-ing to find a World Cup right-back

Over the years the Socceroos have been blessed with very dependable right-backs – players who are just as comfortable defending as they are attacking.

But with the World Cup less than eight weeks away, the position of right-back appears to be one of the most hotly contested for a seat on the plane to Qatar.

Graham Arnold favourite Rhyan Grant will soon be 32 years old and won’t have played any matches until the A-League season starts in October.

Fran Karačić has played several games for Brescia this season as they fight for promotion, but offers very little attacking-wise and has made crucial mistakes in recent Socceroos matches.

The fan favourite for the position, the attack-minded Nathaniel Atkinson, has underwhelmed for a Hearts side sitting in third place in Scotland.

This has now opened the door for a fourth player to try and cement the troublesome position as his own – 25-year-old Ryan Strain.

Coventry-born Strain spent time on the books of Aston Villa’s youth team before moving to South Australia with his family as a 17-year-old.

He was quickly signed to a scholarship deal by Adelaide United and had a fantastic season with the youth team in the SA NPL in 2016, scoring several goals and being widely regarded as the best NPL-level Australian right-back in the country.

Strain was then offered his first professional contract, leaving the SANPL behind to play A-League with Adelaide United.

The attacking impetus that Strain was known for in the SA NPL seemed to evaporate once his professional career began, though.

Ryan Strain controls the ball

(Photo by Roddy Scott/SNS Group via Getty Images)

While right-backs who attack are the current rage in world football, Stain concentrated on the long-forgotten part of that role – defending.

After three seasons of working on the attacking aspects of the position, his final season with Adelaide in 2020 was his best.

United finished fifth in the regular season and were cruelly knocked out in the semi-finals, but the campaign will be remembered for the outstanding form of Strain.

Strain never got the plaudits outside of South Australia – with rival fans believing he was overzealous in tackling, feigned injury and was constantly chatting to match officials.

He was statistically the best-performing right-back that season and deserved selection in the team of the year.

He was regularly bombing forward and providing crosses to finally register his first assist at the professional level and was incredibly unlucky not to score – after missing several great opportunities over the course of the season.

Strain’s form earned a move to Europe, signing with Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Haifa.

His one season at Haifa will be remembered more for being on the treatment table than the pitch, however there was still significant European interest in the player – in 2022 Strain signed for Scottish club St Mirren, where he has a close family connection to.

Strain’s grandfather Gerry Baker is a club legend, scoring 40 goals in 60 matches for the Paisley side.

His grandson has found his attacking verve in Scotland, registering two assists – including one in a victory against Celtic over the weekend, that saw Strain awarded player of the match.

St Mirren have been a surprise packet in Scotland so far, sitting in fourth place and realistically are in the running to play in a European competition next season.

If Ryan Strain’s form continues, there’s a very high chance he will move on to a third European club in three years – St Mirren have already fielded enquiries from glancing admirers for his signature.

The call-up for the Socceroos friendlies against New Zealand is well overdue for Ryan Strain. Statistically, he is the best-performing Australian right-back this season.

Based on form persisting and doing well against New Zealand, it looks likely that Ryan Strain will be selected as one of the right-backs the Socceroos bring to the World Cup.

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