At just 22, former Mariners custodian Mat Ryan has already enjoyed a career most professional players could only dream of.
From winning the Hyundai A-League Premiership and Championship, plus many accolades in Australia’s top flight for his individual performances, to over 50 appearances between the sticks for one of Belgium’s top clubs, Club Brugge, and three games for the Socceroos at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the young baller’s biography is already beautiful.
But while he regularly gazes back on his achievements thus far with a smile, anyone who knows Mat understands that he primarily looks forward with a steely look of ambition in his eyes as he works towards accomplishing his goals.
Late last week we caught up with Ryan on the line from Brugge. Hours earlier he’d been playing in the UEFA Europa League against FC Copenhagen. Two days later he was back on the pitch against Genk in the Belgian Pro League. These are busy times for the youngster, but as always, he was happy to give us his time.
Enjoy this catch-up with Mat Ryan who is odds on to be back in Australia in January to try and help the Socceroos claim 2015 AFC Asian Cup glory!
Ben Ingram (BI): Mat, you've clearly settled in very well to life at Club Brugge. What helped you the most in the transition from Australia to Belgium?
Mat Ryan (MR): It was football that made the transition bearable in the beginning. I found it tough going when I first moved across, coming to the realisation that my family and friends weren’t just a car ride away anymore. But football enabled me to be constantly busy and take my mind of those sorts of things.
BI: You won Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year in your debut season with the Blue-Blacks. How does this achievement rate against all your other career achievements?
MR: Picking up that award is definitely up there with some of my fondest. It's always great to be recognised for a good job you have been doing and looking back I am really proud of my efforts in my first season.
BI: Many pundits and analysts in Australia believe you have the ability to go onto bigger leagues in Europe. Do these expectations place any pressure on you, inspire you, or do you ignore the hype?
MR: It's obviously really flattering to hear positive things like that. But I do my best not too take too much notice of it. I have my own dreams in terms of what I want to achieve and expectations of myself. I'm constantly looking for ways I can improve to enable me to one day achieve those goals.
BI: There’s a chance you will outgrow Club Brugge and the Belgian Pro League. If you could pick anywhere, what do you think would be the ideal next move for yourself and why?
MR: That’s a tough question (laughs). I don't really have too much of a preference in terms of a league or a country. I would like to crack into one of the top four or five leagues in the world, and just be in a team that would suit my style of a goalkeeper. It's hard to spilt England, Germany and Spain.
BI: Club Brugge are currently sitting second in Group B of the Europa League 2014/15. How have you enjoyed participating in the competition thus far, and with three games left in the Group Stage, are you confident your side can reach the knockout phase?
MR: It's been a good challenge being involved in the Europa competition. To play some of the premier clubs around in Europe is a good test and you get to show Europe what you are capable of both personally and as a team. We would have liked a win at home last night (against FC Copenhagen) but it wasn't to be. But we are in a very good position to go through – its’ just up to us to perform in the remaining games.
BI: At the FIFA World Cup, you played behind former teammate Alex Wilkinson, plus Oliver Bozanic in patches. For you, what was it like sharing your first FIFA World Cup experience with some old Mariners teammates?
MR: The Central Coast should be proud at how many players have gone through the Mariners and moved onto bigger and better things. The World Cup was another example of that. It was a great feeling to share it along with those guys.
BI: You’re only 22 but can lay claim to being Australia’s first-choice custodian. Is it an aim to nail down the position for many, many years, like Mark Schwarzer did?
MR: Yes I am very hungry to make that position mine for as long as I can. The only way I can go about that though is to maintain a high level of performance in each and every game I play. I feel the more games I am playing the better the performances are getting so I just hope I can continue that trend.
BI: The 2015 AFC Asian Cup is just around the corner. It will, likely, mean leaving Club Brugge for a number of weeks. But the chance to shine for Australia on home soil, including at least one game in Sydney, must be something you’re looking forward to immensely?
MR: Yeah like you wouldn't believe! Growing up as a kid it's your dream to play for your country. And after tasting what it's like to have the support of a whole nation behind you, it's spine tingling. Now on the back of the World Cup to come home to Australia and play a major tournament in front of our own public is very, very exciting. I am counting down the days!