Socceroos' goalkeeper Mat Ryan destined for stardom at World Cup

Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan in action during last week's friendly against Croatia in Brazil. Picture: Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan in action during last week's friendly against Croatia in Brazil. Picture: Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

One Australian player, above all others, has the chance to emerge as a star from the World Cup, Plumpton born and former Blacktown City goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

It takes a lot for people to notice goalkeepers. To really notice goalkeepers. To analyse them, respect them, reward them. They don't win individual awards. Given the obsession with attacking players, they're effectively disqualified from winning them. If they make mistakes, they're savaged. If they don't, they're simply doing their job. Traditionally, the role of a goalkeeper is to be seen, but not heard.

Ryan will definitely be heard in Brazil. Communication is a forte, something drummed into him when he was learning his trade by his goalkeeping coach at Central Coast Mariners, John Crawley. And he most definitely will be seen. Put your money on Ryan being one of the Socceroos' busiest players at the World Cup. If he delivers on his potential, which I suspect he will, perhaps those with an open mind will recognise the coming of age of an exciting footballer, who just happens to be a goalkeeper. Circumstance has given Ryan the perfect window of opportunity to emerge as a star on the world stage.

Ryan didn't help Australia qualify for the World Cup, but he was always going to get his chance to play in it once Ange Postecoglou took charge. Even if Mark Schwarzer had hung around, he wasn't going to be the automatic selection under the new coach that he was under the last, Holger Osieck. Rather than fight for his spot, Schwarzer beat a tactical retreat by retiring from international football. That left Ryan locked in combat with Mitch Langerak for a position that had been under lock and key for the best part of 15 years.

Regular football with Club Brugge gave Ryan the edge over a ring-rusty Langerak, a regular reserve with Borussia Dortmund. The friendly against Ecuador in March confirmed it, and Ryan now has the chance to emulate Schwarzer and become the number one No.1 for the Socceroos for a long time to come. He's got the talent and the temperament to embrace the challenge.

Schwarzer was a shot-stopper, Ryan is a sweeper-keeper. In the game of the future, that's a critical point of difference. Speed across the ground and composure on the ball are assets for defenders. Now they're needed by goalkeepers. Watch Ryan's starting position when the Socceroos had possession in the final warm-up match against Croatia, and you can see how important he is becoming to Postecoglou's game plan. Depending on where his team had the ball, it wasn't uncommon to see Ryan standing 30 metres out from goal. ''We're going to need that extra defender,'' Postecoglou quips, only he's not joking.

Against Spain and Chile, teams who tend to work the ball forward, perhaps Ryan won't need to take such a high line. Against the Dutch, though, you can seen him putting in tackles on the likes of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, who thrive on the ball over the top.

None of this detracts from Ryan's quality in dealing with the fundamentals. His reflexes are sharp, he's brave in heavy traffic and – perhaps in the biggest difference to Schwarzer – he backs himself off his line. Perhaps the only concern heading into the tournament is that Ryan's distribution has been scratchy, and that's normally his forte. You'd expect goalkeeping coach Tony Franken to work hard on this aspect of his game before the opener against Chile.

What we do know is that Ryan is going to get a workout in Brazil. Any chinks in his armour will be clinically exposed. It is just the sort of test he relishes. As the benchmarks keep rising, so Ryan keeps meeting them. Just a couple of years ago he was a starry-eyed kid living in a caravan park at Norah Head, taking the first steps as a professional with the Mariners. Now he's playing in Europe and at a World Cup with huge responsibility on his young shoulders. But he's not fazed by it, nor does he look out of place.

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This story Socceroos' goalkeeper Mat Ryan destined for stardom at World Cup first appeared on St Marys-Mt Druitt Star.


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