Mat Ryan was the hero for Australia against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Mat Ryan was the hero for Australia against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

It’s all in the mind for Socceroos hero

SOMETIMES when Mat Ryan makes a mistake in goal he looks up to the crowd and searches for a rubbish bin.

Then he chucks his error out with the trash and gets back to the game.

It's a simple trick passed on by Ryan's first goalkeeping coach John Crawley years ago, back before the mindfulness movement really hit the mainstream.

"He said, 'if you happen to make a mistake have a little look to the side or into the stand, and if there's a rubbish bin try and scrunch up the thought about that mistake having occurred, throw it into the rubbish bin and move onto whatever next comes your way'," Ryan tells The Daily Telegraph.

Mat Ryan was the hero for Australia against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Mat Ryan was the hero for Australia against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

"Sometimes I think of that.

"Immediately when I make a mistake in a game I do my absolute best to try and make sure that next moment that comes along I'll be there and do what's required.

"But ultimately I don't completely get over a mistake until I've played the next game, and when it's been a performance that hasn't had a mistake in it.

"That's probably when I completely put it to bed and move on."

That may be partly because there aren't too many visible litter depositories on a packed matchday at Brighton & Hove Albion's home ground.

But it's also got a lot to do with Ryan's internal mechanisms.

Ryan helped Australia into the Asian Cup quarter-finals. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Ryan helped Australia into the Asian Cup quarter-finals. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A self-described over-thinker, the Socceroos goalkeeper has been to the bottom and back to overcome self-doubt and master the pressure of the notoriously unforgiving Premier League.

In most sporting endeavours - certainly one as psychological as football - raw talent can only get one so far.

Ability was something Ryan had in droves since he was a kid at Sydney's Westfield Sports High School and playing for Blacktown City.

And he always had the focus - to this day his conditioning work, clean-eating regime and matchday routine are meticulous and unchanging.

He just needed to train his thoughts.

In a way, Ryan was forced into it after what the 26-year-old calls "darker days", those tougher times at Valencia between 2015 and 2017 when he battled injury, rejection and coaching upheaval.

Ryan training ethic has helped him excel in the English Premier League. Picture: FFA/Tristan Furney
Ryan training ethic has helped him excel in the English Premier League. Picture: FFA/Tristan Furney

Everything was seemingly swimming until then, on an upward trajectory from the Central Coast Mariners and Club Brugge only to plateau in Spain to the point he sought a loan move back to Belgium with Racing Genk just to get some game time.

Even when Brighton came knocking, the negative experience bled into his new life in England's top flight.

Frustration developed into inward thinking, and he'd find himself over-analysing the minutiae of his performances.

"It plays a massive part," Ryan said.

"Something I've discovered also in probably the most recent few years with Valencia when things weren't going that well, just how much it can have an effect on you.

"Even sometimes in the analysis of games where you're trying to justify or find reasons for why things happened in a game, or why they unfolded that way, or actions you perhaps could have done better."

Ryan with supporters after his side's win against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Ryan with supporters after his side's win against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, then still at Sydney FC, noticed the decline just by watching his games on TV 17,000km away.

He rang his former Mariners charge.

"Arnie just noticed I'd sort of lost the enjoyment factor a little bit and I was over-thinking, all those types of things" Ryan said.

"I was doubting my ability a little bit. Arnie called me up at the beginning of last season when I first went there and pretty much nailed what my situation was.

"I was getting a little bit more anxious before games than I had in the past, whether that was because it was the Premier League also and it's so coveted."

Arnold put him in touch with Mike Conway, who's now with the Socceroos in Asian Cup camp, and mental guru taught him more mindfulness techniques.

About how smiling releases the happy hormone oxytocin. And the positive impact of closing his eyes and visualising successful moments, or happy occasions with family.

Ryan goes airborne to make a save against Jordan. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Ryan goes airborne to make a save against Jordan. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

"Until I started speaking to him and became educated on how much the mind can play on things, because I'm an over-thinker myself, I wasn't aware of how much was out there to help in that aspect and how much it would be influential to my football," Ryan said.

"I'm always willing to give stuff a go if I feel it's going to help me. It's no coincidence that my season starting to get on the rise. I look back on last year and it's probably been the best year I've had as a footballer."

That was epitomised when he was named the PFA's fans' player of the month last October and was linked with Manchester United.

Also when, just this month, he earned high praise from Jurgen Klopp.

And all those lessons came to the fore in Monday's penalty shootout against Uzbekistan.

Even a sniff of self-doubt could have a goalkeeper talking themselves out of a save before anyone's even sent a shot their way.

But Ryan was in "the zone", that heady state of supreme focus devoid of indecision or fear of failure.

So much so it was he who psyched out Uzbekistan's penalty-taker, standing tall to block the shot.

His second stop, a dive to the right not dissimilar to the penalty save he made against Wayne Rooney last year, put the winning spot-kick on a platter for Mathew Leckie.

Ryan says there were influencers in that moment everywhere.

From his family, in particular his single mother who budgeted to the cent to ensure he and his sister had what they needed.

From Crawley and his Brighton goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts, to Arnold for giving him his first professional chance, and old friend Danny Vukovic who helped him from the sideline.

"I've just been very fortunate that the people surrounding me have passed on their knowledge and experience both in and out of the game to make me who I am today and allow me to be doing the things I am doing in life," Ryan said.

"I don't want to sound cliched saying never in your wildest dreams. But honestly, being a young fan watching the Socceroos play when I was younger and watching Mark Schwarzer's heroics that night, I always knew I wanted to try my best to be a footballer.

"But anytime I thought about overseas, or big clubs in big leagues I thought I'll never be good enough for that type of thing.

"In the odd moments when I do get to reflect and talk about it and digest everything I've done up until now, it is surreal to be honest."