He may have dropped a few spots, but Mat Ryan was the only goalkeeper on this year's Asia 50 and FFT were fortunate to conduct a wide-ranging interview with the Aussie shot-stopper. Among the topics were language barriers, Gary Neville and his extraordinary World Cup experience...
STATS THAT MATTER
- Date of birth: April 8, 1992
- Height: 1.84m
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Club: Valencia
- National team appearances: 23
FFT: Mat, thanks for your time and congratulations on being named in FourFourTwo’s Asia 50 for the second straight year. Last year it was yourself and compatriot Ante Covic, but this year you are the only 'keeper.
MR: Thanks for having me. What number am I?
FFT: You actually slipped a few spots this year, from No.8 to No.12.
MR: Oh, that’s a bit disappointing ... no just kidding. It’s obviously very humbling and I’m very thankful to be recognised on the list. Going from Belgium to Valencia now it’s been a challenging year, but it’s great to still be part of it.
FFT: How did you find your first season in Spanish football? Obviously you were sidelined for a while with a knee injury, but how do you reflect on the season overall?
MR: I’ve been asked this question a lot lately and I describe it as an adapting year. There has been a lot of bad luck and frustration and disappointment along the way.
But I sat back the other day and realised I’d played 21 games, which isn’t a bad number of games to play in my first season over here.
I’ve been getting accustomed to everything else over here like the language barrier and adjusting to a new place and getting settled.
I’ve had to adjust to a league of this standard as well. So overall it hasn’t been too bad and working hard and trying to improve and work with the quality players in our squad.
You can watch all the football you want on TV, but when you’re witnessing it first-hand it’s something else altogether
It’s really the first situation I’ve been in where I haven’t been playing regularly and the frustration and disappointment would be the main thing I was feeling in the beginning.
But I’ve become more aware of the importance of improving at this stage, which was something I didn’t really accept too much in the beginning.
The longer the year has gone on, I’ve been trying to adapt that mentality a bit more and keep working hard. I’m still craving that game time, but the situation needs a bit of patience I guess.
FFT: You mentioned the language barrier, how is your Spanish?
MR: It’s not bad. It’s probably at a level now where general things I need to know, or when I’m out and about, I can make some basic sentences.
I’ve been persistent with it. It’s also been frustrating, but at the end of the day it’s really pleasing when I can go places and be able to communicate a little bit and keep practising and improving.
FFT: How is the standard of football in Spain compared to other leagues you’ve played in?
MR: All the stereotypes apply for people who know the game – it’s very quick, there’s a lot of movement, short passes. The individual skill of players, they tend to do the unexpected more often and are just that little bit quicker to make decisions and smarter in the decisions they’re making.
You try not to think of the names you’re coming up against
It’s been a real eye-opener for me in the training and the games I’ve been playing. They’re probably the biggest differences that come to mind.
You can watch all the football you want on TV, but when you’re witnessing it first-hand it’s something else altogether.
FFT: I don’t want to ask you specifically about the Copa del Rey match you played against Barcelona, when you faced Messi, Suarez and Neymar [it ended in a 7-0 loss].
MR: Yep, I’d prefer you didn’t ask me about that.
FFT: I’m happy to leave that one alone, but more generally facing these guys, some of the biggest names and most prolific strikers in world football, what is your approach?
MR: The preparation is similar to games at the World Cup, where you’re playing against the best of the best.
You try not to think of the names you’re coming up against, but it’s a different feeling against these teams and these players and it’s the level everyone wants to get to.
I try my best to clear that stuff out of my mind and play the game for what it is and that’s one of the lessons I learned from the World Cup.
You’re in that position of playing against them because of what you’ve been doing yourself, so just stick to the things that have been working for you in the past and go out and play your natural game.
FFT: You obviously spent some time under Gary Neville during his high-profile, and fairly short-lived, time as Valencia manager. How did you find working with him?
MR: Every coach has their different philosophies and approach to things. He’d achieved virtually everything you can in the game as a player and I was excited to start working with someone who I could feed off their experience and success.
He came into a difficult situation in the middle of the season when you can’t get a pre-season under your belt and imprint your philosophies the way you want. You can only really make little tweaks and changes here and there.
English being his first language made things a little easier for me and I did my best under him with the opportunities that he gave me.
I think he respected me as a player and a goalkeeper. He’s still part of the England coaching staff and we (the Socceroos) are going to face them at the end of May, so it’ll be good to see him.