Behind the Aussie Wall; Q & A with Mat Ryan

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From Curitiba, Brazil to Brugge, Belgium; it’s been a hectic couple months for Mat Ryan, who has crisscrossed Europe and the globe plying his trade in goals. At just 22, Ryan now has a resume that will make even the most seasoned footballer to blush, which includes first keeper in the rejuvenated Australian national team.

Since departing the Graham Arnold’s watch at Central Coast, Ryan headed overseas to Belgium which he now calls home in the goals of Jupiler Pro League side, Club Brugge KV. Going from strength to strength at Brugge has earned him a hardline reputation that is echoing throughout Europe, Real Madrid even rumoured to be interested in his services.

The TURF recently caught up with Mat to ask him about Brazil, Brugge, penalties and Real Madrid.

TURF: Mat, it’s been a big couple of months for you, how do you reflect on your experience in Brazil?

Mat Ryan: Big couple of months is a massive understatement, it still feels surreal that I have indeed played three World Cups games. It’s crazy! My experience gave me the fastest and most in depth lesson at what football at the highest level is like and I am confident that insight will make me a better goalkeeper.

T: It was a relatively inexperienced squad at the World Cup, but with impressive efforts quickly gained a never-give-up reputation; what was the feeling around the camp that in-fact that we could take it to Spain, Chile & Holland?

MR: For myself and I’m sure a few of the other guys who’s first World Cup it was, it felt like an adventure into the unknown. You can pick so many of the experienced guys brains and research oppositions etc… but nothing could of prepared us for what actually occurred. The boss did instill within the group to have ‘no fear’ and apart from the first 15 min of that Chile game I think we lived up to that.

T: Mitch Langerak is also beginning to get some good game time at BVB, meaning more competition at a national level, do you feel that your spot as first choice keeper is possibly under threat or do you thrive with this competition?

MR: I think that everyone’s position is always under threat in all positions. You are blessed with the opportunity to play for your country. If you aren’t performing well then it won’t be before too long before u find yourself out of the team. I can only control my form and progression so that’s all I focus on.

T: Asian Cup in Australian early next year, how important is winning the cup for the Socceroos?

MR: Winning trophies is what creates the best moments in an athletes career, so if we were able to achieve that I think it’d go down as one of Australian greatest sporting triumphs. We want to show the public the progression we have made and what we’ve learnt from Brazil, and with it being played on home soil, I think everyone will be expecting us to win, which presents another challenge as we a notoriously known as always being underdogs. But we will give it our best shot.

T: Moving onto your club career, making the move to Brugge in 2013, looking back what was the transition like?

MR: Looking back, the club were very helpful in assisting with the transition into life over here. It’s just difficult to come to terms with the realization you’re so far away from friends and family. Football because it was going well was a good cure for most things though.

T: What as your initial comparison of the quality of the football to the A-League?

MR: It’s a much more open and end-to-end game over here compared to Arnie’s tactical organization. The league is much more about letting young guys blossom and show their attributes in order to try sell them one day to a bigger club. That’s how the clubs here in Belgium survive. I don’t think the standard is that much higher, just different way of playing.

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T: On the pitch in your opening season there was some outstanding efficiency, how do you think you performed?

MR: I was content with how things went for me on the pitch last year. Was a nice confident boost to have been able to be important for the club on a few occasions. It’s always great to be recognized also with being awarded goalkeeper of the year. But it’s a new year now and there is plenty of room for improvement I feel.

T: I’ve seen you be referred to as the ‘Australian Wall’ in some other news articles, have you felt you’ve been able to assert yourself on the field and have a big impact for the team?

MR: It was great to earn the respect of the coaches, players and fans as quickly as I did. It’s a great feeling to be important within a side and I guess you get to that stage through your performances. So I definitely feel like a bit of leader in the team as I think every goalkeeper should be.

T: There was a strong end to last season, unlucky not to get a win… Your thoughts?

MR: Last year feels like a bit of an anti-climax we were there and poised for a great finish and then fell at the final hurdle. The anderlecht game at home where we had an extra man for over 60 minutes then to concede an own goal in the last 5 minutes to lose the game pretty much killed our chances. That was the defining moment I feel. But hopefully we’ve learnt and go better again this year.

T: Brugge is also in the Europa League this year, how much are you looking forward to some European action?

MR: Looking forward to it a lot. To be in one of the premier European competitions of Europe is very exciting. Opportunity to play against some of the other successful teams going around in Europe both home and away to test ourselves is a challenge in really look forward to.

T: Penalty kicks are arguably the toughest part of goal keeping, what’s your strategy when trying to successfully save a shot, what’s running through your mind?

MR: If you ask any goalkeeper they’d probably say it’s the best aspect. To have the odds heavily stacked against you to defy them and pull of the save is close to the best feeling you could get. I do my study of every opposition with the help of video footage and my goalkeeper coaches. Then in the moment I try to gain subtle hints or look for things I might have saw and then use my instinct to go and go hard and ultimately stop the ball going in.

T: There was talk of Real Madrid possibly being interested in your services; have they been in-contact and how does this interest sit with you?

MR: I have not heard anything from them, I don’t know what it was all about. You’ll have to ask Graham Arnold. But obviously it’s very humbling to be linked to a club like that. Who knows maybe one day I could be lucky to find myself in a club of that statue. I’ll keep dreaming.

T: A strong start to the new season with just 1 loss in 6 games; your thoughts on the start of the season?

MR: Disappointing to be honest. Only the one loss but only two wins. Points are crucial so we need to find a way to start winning. The Europa took up most of our focus early on but now that we achieved qualification for that we’ll be looking to pick up our domestic form.

Interview by Jacob Arnott

THE TURF