TO RUS­SIA WITH GLOVES

Soc­ceroos keeper Matt Ryan has made a habit of prov­ing the doubters wrong, writes TOM SMITHIES

Fraser Coast Chronicle - - SPORT -

PEO­PLE kept telling Matt Ryan you had to be big to be a goal­keeper – they still do.

So in the end, the only way to prove them wrong was through a sea­son full of prov­ing them wrong.

At 184cm, Ryan is hardly diminu­tive, but the Soc­ceroos goal­keeper has got used to ques­tions about his height.

They were loud­est of all 11 months ago when he was first linked with a move to Brighton in the English Premier League – a league where goal­keep­ers tend to­wards the steepling, such as Aus­tralia’s Mark Sch­warzer.

Helped by a coach at Brighton, Chris Hughton, who be­lieved in his abil­ity, Ryan re­sponded as he al­ways had since he tak­ing up goal­keep­ing at age 12.

“You hear all the mur­murs, the perceptions peo­ple have of you,” Ryan said ahead of his sec­ond World Cup.

“Even early on, when I was think­ing about a pos­si­ble move (to Eng­land), all the doubts about not be­ing tall enough come out.

“It all comes back at the end of the day to my ex­pe­ri­ence as a goal­keeper – feel­ing con­fi­dent that I could go there and still do well.

“I felt like I needed some­one (like Hughton) who be­lieved in me as much as I be­lieved in my­self.

“I went there and straight away was try­ing to get up to speed and deal with the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges of the EPL.”

What re­ally gave him the be­lief that stature was im­ma­te­rial was the trail blazed in Euro­pean foot­ball by two goal­keep­ers who were ex­em­plars to Ryan in his teenage years.

Iker Casil­las (just a cen­time­tre taller) was al­ready es­tab­lished at Real Madrid by the time Ryan took up goal­keep­ing, and Fa­bien Barthez (4cm shorter than the Soc­ceroo) had won the Premier League with Manch­ester United and the World Cup with France.

“Casil­las is a great goal­keeper any­way and what he’s done in his career speaks louder than any­thing I can say,” Ryan said. “But not be­ing tall enough was a com­mon theme for me growing up – I missed out on some state teams when I was younger.

“At that age, be­ing young and naive, it was some­thing that was in my mind. To see some­one like him be­ing so suc­cess­ful, I guess I felt a lit­tle con­nec­tion.

“In Spain, it’s not seen as a coun­try where goal­keep­ers need to be so tall.

“For Barthez, who I think is even shorter than Casil­las, to have done that in Eng­land, makes it even more spe­cial.”

The fact that both men have won a World Cup is fur­ther in­spi­ra­tion – as is Ryan’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­cel in Rus­sia, af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing er­ror against Hol­land in Brazil four years ago.

He is well set. His ex­cel­lent form for Brighton was a big part of the club avoid­ing rel­e­ga­tion, which de­fied most ex­pec­ta­tions, and a big part of that form was his abil­ity to avoid be­ing swamped by the men­tal de­mands of the EPL.

Work­ing with Syd­ney FC’s emo­tion coach, Mike Con­way, Ryan has de­vel­oped strate­gies to calm him­self in games, and hence see a big­ger pic­ture than most.

“I try not to get to caught up in the good mo­ments at the time be­cause there’s al­ways a game around the corner – it can quickly change,” he said.

“The same with a mis­take. You want the next game to prove again that you’re good enough to play at this level.

“Now that the sea­son has fin­ished, af­ter the pres­sure at the end, I can look back and re­flect a bit. I’m pretty proud of my­self and the level which I held through­out the sea­son.

“There were plenty of mo­ments I learned from, but also plenty that gave me the con­fi­dence that I can play at the high­est level.

“It’s the old cliche that you have to learn from every mis­take, move on and do ev­ery­thing you can to pre­vent it hap­pen­ing again.

“The na­ture of our po­si­tion, a mis­take is high­lighted more than any other on the pitch. I love the chal­lenge of the po­si­tion, that to have a good game you pretty much have to have the per­fect game.

“You can’t make a mis­take – walk­ing onto the pitch every day know­ing that is some­thing I thrive upon. Com­ing off af­ter­wards, know­ing you’ve done that, there is no more en­joy­able mo­ment in this in­dus­try.

“My me­mories from the pre­vi­ous World Cup are that it’s the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle of the game. Ev­ery­thing is am­pli­fied way above all other games and it gives you the big­gest thrill.”

‘‘ YOU HEAR ALL THE MUR­MURS, THE PERCEPTIONS PEO­PLE HAVE OF YOU.

— SOC­CEROO KEEPER MATT RYAN

PHO­TOS: TOBY ZERNA

PRES­SURE TO PER­FORM: He’s hardly short at 184cm, but Soc­ceroos goal­keeper Mathew Ryan has long bat­tled perceptions that his height would stop him from play­ing at the top level.

FO­CUSED: Matt Ryan is ready to go in his sec­ond World Cup.

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