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In his residence in Brighton, a 25-year-old looked lost staring into the abyss. The year was 2017, goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, also called Mat Ryan, had just moved from Spain to England and his side, Brighton and Hove Albion was struggling to maintain consistency in the Premier League.

And then the phone rang. His first coach, in professional football, Graham Arnold, had called, asking him about his mental health.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with him when I was in my club team at the Mariners (Central Coast Mariners). Obviously, he’s been in the national team now for the last five or six years and his success speaks for itself,” Ryan tells Sportstar in an exclusive interview.

“In my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have his guidance.”

Arnold helped him to wade through troubled times and that season, Ryan went on to help his newly promoted team finish as a quarterfinalist in the FA Cup and stay clear of relegation in the Premier League.

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Ryan has not doubted himself since, becoming the second-most capped goalkeeper for Australia and also, leading the side since 2019. The man he credits for his success – Graham Arnold, or  Arnie as he likes to call the gaffer.

“When I first arrived in Brighton, I didn’t get off to the best of starts. He was observing from afar and he gave me a phone call,” Ryan says.

“I guess he nailed my situation, you know, hit the nail on the head in terms of, saying that I was overanalysing and, wasn’t enjoying my football. He put me in contact with one of his friends.”

Mat Ryan – Australia’s captain with Batman-esque mask looks to repay coach’s faith in AFC Asian Cup 2023

Australian Socceroos national soccer team goalkeeper Mat Ryan is pictured in Sydney in this May 23, 2014.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

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Australian Socceroos national soccer team goalkeeper Mat Ryan is pictured in Sydney in this May 23, 2014.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

He won the Australian top-division Premiership and the A-League championship before turning 21 and by 23, he had the AFC Asian Cup title with Australia. Individually, he had a string of medals in Belgium and Australia, all before his mid-twenties.

But after he moved to Spain from Belgium, joining Valencia, Ryan started struggling for game-time. He was loaned back to the Belgian first division before his transfer to Brighton and Hove Albion.

“I’d just arrived and I was feeling the pressure quite a bit and I hadn’t spoken to him. He (Arnold) put me in contact with one of his friends.

“He enabled me at that moment to be self-aware and to channel my thoughts in ways which would help benefit me in my day-to-day life and also with my football career,” he says.

Arnold’s friend, Mike Conway, is a sports psychologist, who had previously aided the coach during his success with Sydney FC (which won the A-League men’s championship, premiership and the Australia Cup in 2017).

“From then, it sort of just turned around in a positive sense. I got back on track and headed where I have so far,” Ryan says.

Filling in boots of role model

Ryan has moved on from Brighton and has changed multiple clubs since. But in between the sticks, he remains rock solid in national colours.

At the FIFA World Cup 2022, Australia had its best performance in a World Cup since 2006 and Ryan kept more clean sheets than his role model Mark Schwarzer (two compared to one of Schwarzer) did in that edition.

The mention of the fact brings a smile to Ryan’s face, as he says, “You can’t help but not mention the World Cup, doing things that this national team has never done before.

And equaling what the golden generation did (in 2006), making the knockout stages and surpassing them with a few of the statistics, with two clean sheets and two wins in the tournament. It was special.”

The 31-year-old is now one of the veterans of the team. That adds more responsibility in grooming youngsters such as Jordan Bos, Marco Tilio and Patrick Yazbek, who have come into the squad recently. 

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“We’ve always had great professionals and guys that have great attitude coming into the team. That’s the characteristics needed to be involved in the team. You’ve to be open-minded and embrace the culture which we have here,” Ryan says. 

“We, the senior boys, are trying to share experiences of what we feel (which) enables us to play the best football that we can. We try to accelerate their learning and growth so that it’s better for them to learn something from us rather than having to go out and make mistakes and learn for themselves,” he adds.

Injury scare before Asian Cup

Ryan was the star of the AFC Asian Cup 2015, which Australia won, beating South Korea 2-1 in extra-time. He was awarded the Best Goalkeeper Award then.

Before the 2023 edition of the tournament, Australia was nearly dealt with a major injury blow when Ryan suffered a cheekbone fracture while practising for his club.

“Eyes on the road ahead,” he had tweeted.

Miraculously, he was back on the field ahead of the Asian Cup opener against India.

“After the incident happened, I was just focused on trying to be fit as soon as I could and doing what the medical team advised me to do. I still feel a little bit of numbness but with the mask, I feel more than able to perform my job. It’s something that needs some adjusting,” he says.

Ryan has started both games in the tournament so far, and kept clean sheets in both, helping his side march into the round of 16. With a Batman-esque mask on, he hopes to give his best in the tournament as a way to repay the faith Arnold has had in him for so long.

“When I first started at the Mariners, myself and the lot of young guys that we had there and even the senior guys, the way he managed us, the team (was great).

“He has the ability to get the most out of the team. That’s what sets him apart from other managers and I’m very fortunate to have had him in my life,” Ryan says.

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“Not only as a coach but as a friend. He’s helped me on my journey in my football career and in my life. I owe a lot to him. And I try and say thank you with every performance that I give.”

Australia faces Uzbekistan on Tuesday, a side whose Asian Cup hopes were demolished by Ryan four years ago. The goalkeeper pulled off two saves in the penalty shootout, which eliminated Uzbekistan in the round of 16.

This time though, the scenario would be very different. Australia has already qualified while Uzbeks will be desperate to make the cut on the final matchday for Group B.

Ryan says that no matter who the opponent is, he and his boys are here to win the tournament and will treat every match with equal importance.

“We’re here to win. Simple. Nothing less than that,” he says.





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