Ryan on a learning curve in school of hard knocks

EXCLUSIVE: Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan conceded that his debut season in Spain presented him with a set of tough challenges, the kind of which he had never encountered in his young career.


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Ryan plays for Spanish giant Valencia and on Friday (AEDT) he is expected to keep goal for Los Che in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 return leg against Athletic Bilbao at the Mestalla Stadium after losing the away game 1-0.

He moved to Valencia in the last European summer after a successful stint with Club Brugge in Belgium and he said he was taken aback by how big football is in Spain.

"It's been a different year for me and I'm continuing to learn and I've faced new challenges that I haven't previously in my career," he said.

"The standard of the league with the quality across all aspects of it was an eye-opener.

"The expectations of the fans of a massive club in a massive league were something new to me too.

"Also, dealing with obstacles like the language and the way they live here. And dealing with the injury I had and then trying to fight to get myself back in the team and to stay there.

The 23-year-old insists the toughest adjustment to Spain came on the pitch.

"The biggest challenge however is probably the difficulty involved in winning a match," he said.

"Across all the teams they have great qualities and the games are always very tight and it's only a moment that changes them. This sounds like a general situation in football but I guess it's just that much more intensified here.

"That would edge the passion of our fans. Both in positive and negative moments with the club, they make their feelings known and due to their huge numbers it just follows you every where you go."

Ryan, whose heroics in goal against Monaco played a key part in Valencia reaching the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, suffered a knee injury that wouldn't go away a few weeks into the season and has since lost his place to Diego Alves.

Valencia, who are having a poor season by their standards, were knocked out of the UCL and 'relegated' to the Europa League where Ryan has become the team's designated goalkeeper, although he says there is no specific agreement that allows Alves to play in La Liga and Ryan in the Copa del Rey and UEL.

Ryan got to know the full extent of the stern challenge he was facing in Spanish football when he was on the wrong end of a 7-0 thrashing against Barcelona in the cup.

Ryan, who is expected to play for Australia in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Tajikistan and Jordan, said Valencia's Camp Nou debacle was one of his darkest days as a footballer but he was keen to learn from it and not let it happen again.

"It brought back memories of my time at the World Cup in Brazil (Socceroos lost their three group games)," he reminisced.

"It was a very tough time but like everyone has to do during such times, you have to do your best to learn and bounce back and better yourself for the next time you get an opportunity like that," he said.

Ryan is looking forward to the return match against Bilbao and the two Socceroos matches and said he was pleased to note that his reflexes are still sharp despite the fact he does not play in every game for Valencia.

He was in sparkling form in the first leg against Bilbao and his saves, particularly one to stop a free kick from Benat Etxebarria, made sure Valencia are still in with a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

"I was glad that in that situation the reflexes were working and I hope they will continue to help me in my future opportunities," he explained.

"I'm excited about the Bilbao game. I've enjoyed playing in the Europa League both in Brugge and here at Valencia and was fortunate enough to be involved in the quarter-finals with Brugge last year.

"So I'm hoping that the team can turn around the result and qualify for the next round.

"I've played 19 games in all competitions for Valencia which doesn't sound too bad when I think about it.

"I haven't thought too much about the Socceroos just yet but when the games roll around, I'll be very excited once again to get back with the boys.

"The boss (Ange Postecoglou) always makes it a common theme in his meetings that you can never take a call-up for your national team for granted as you just don't know when you'll get an opportunity again.

"And after being injured and missing a part of the World Cup journey I'm eager to get back in there and work with the guys and hopefully help the team qualify at the top of our group for the next phase of qualifying."

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5 min read
Published 16 March 2016 at 10:30am
By Philip Micallef