To see a goalkeeper from the AFC zone to have such a fantastic year, that’s very much unprecedented. You could possibly make a legitimate case for Nawaf Al Khaldi (2010), Mabrouk Zaid (2004) or Mohammed Al-Deayea (2002) to be on par with Mathew Ryan’s 2015 edition, but then again – neither of them won the Asian Cup in their respective year, and neither of them were proving themselves in Europe at the same time.
Accordingly, Australia takes great pride in Mathew Ryan’s success story (albeit he’s not being crazily hyped as he probably would’ve been elsewhere in the world), giving him unrivalled recognition in the form of both awards distributed by the Professional Football Association. The former Central Coast Mariners sensation triumphed in both senior and U-23 categories, thus becoming the first such hegemon and only the second goalkeeper to trump all outfield players in the main category (Mark Schwarzer for 2009/10 was another exception).
The sole fact that this sweep happened in a year which saw Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan, Massimo Luongo and Aaron Mooy all shine rather brightly makes you definitely realize what kind of a stunner Mathew Ryan himself had…
The aforementioned individual triumph of Mark Schwarzer was allowed largely by his Europa League heroics, where he buttressed Fulham’s run all the way to the final, notably blanking both Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV away from home. Five years on, and another Aussie was making waves between the sticks in the same competition.
Ryan’s journey may have ended much sooner, in the quarter-finals, but it’s worth noting Club Brugge went that far mainly – if not only – thanks to him. He’s never conceded more than one goal in 12 continental starts (!), and on that last hurdle, Ryan managed to stay unbeaten for 172 mins before an unstoppable rifle into the top corner finally sunk the brave Belgians.
Meanwhile, Club Brugge were fighting on two other fronts, in the league (close runners-up) and the domestic cup (winners), with Mat Ryan proving to be an enviably reliable stopgap behind an increasingly tired defensive line. “There was often a lot of shuffling about in the Club Brugge defence between the likes of Oscar Duarte, Brandon Mechele, Stefano Denswil and more but the one consistent would always be Mat Ryan and he had a knack of just being able to stop chances that he didn’t seem to have much of a chance at,” Luke Harvey, Belgian league enthusiast from Australia, tells me.
“Without a doubt for me Mat Ryan is the best goalkeeper in Belgian football since Courtois and Mignolet and certainly was the best goalkeeper in the league since he came to Belgium. The likes of Silvio Proto (Anderlecht) are always going to be solid goalkeepers but there is something special about Ryan that made you know he would go to the top,” Luke continues, alluding to Ryan’s majestic presence in the air and almost unreal 1-on-1 prowess, which sometimes reminds you of an ice hockey goalkeeper (in terms of style as well as success rate), sometimes of the legendary Peter Schmeichel.
Learning first hand from the official Best Goalkeeper of the 1994 World Cup and current Brugge manager, Michel Preud’homme, Mathew Ryan has polished his game in the Jupiler League to such an extent that his confidence suddenly doesn’t seem like a dangerous element (as was the case early on in his career), but rather an outright strength.
Hence, while you could easily argue Kim Jin-hyeon’s highlight reel offered much more entertainment, it was also hard to deny Ryan’s assured positioning and control in all kinds of situations crucially backed up Australia’s Asian Cup triumph on home soil.
Ryan wasn’t asked to do much, but every time he was called into action, he responded in style. As a result, we have seen only two more dominant gold-winning custodians since the 1976 expansion (Abdullah Al-Deayea in 1988 and Noor Sabri in 2007 conceded twice in just two games, while Ryan surrendered three goals in three different matches), which looks only better from age perspective, since the 23-year-old Socceroo is by far the youngest Asian Cup-winning goalkeeper no. 1 since 1980 and Jasem Bahman of Kuwait.
Highlight of the Year: Signing for the Spanish giants from Valencia
It doesn’t happen too often that a Socceroo makes a move to a non-English speaking top European league; let alone La Liga, considered to be right up there with the Premier League. In this century, there had been only one case of an Australian dipping into Spanish waters, and that’s almost a 15 year old one – John Aloisi to Osasuna in 2001.
This whole Valencia switch therefore wasn’t a safe bet from Ryan, especially as he was coming to a club already employing one of the best goalkeepers around, the currently injured Diego Alvés. Indeed, as it turned out upon his return from a serious injury, Ryan ultimately found himself to be a third overall choice on the team, behind Jaume Doménech even, which essentially cost him the #SFGTop100 pole position.
That said, Ryan initially wasted no time to impress on the Iberian Peninsula. He kept a clean sheet in his La Liga debut, and more importantly, a string of difficult saves pathed the way for Los Che into the Champions League group stages to end a painful two-year absence.