Had his mother not gotten angry with him for breaking so many racquets on court, Mat Ryan could have easily been smashing aces at the Australian Open tennis in January rather than shot-stopping for the Socceroos at the Asian Cup.
Mathew David Ryan, now 22, grew up as sports-mad kid in Sydney's west.
Now, a decade and a slew of awards later, Ryan is one of the emerging stars of the Socceroos ahead of January’s Asian Cup, which kicks off on January 9 when Ange Postecoglou's men face Kuwait at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
But across the road from AAMI in Melbourne's crowded sports precinct is the home of our grand slam tennis tournament, the Australian Open.
If fate hadn't intervened in the form of Ryan's mother, it might’ve been Mat Ryan along with Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic thrilling local fans on court.
“As a kid I was always outside playing sport,” Ryan, the Club Brugge number one and Socceroo World Cup keeper told www.socceroos.com.au
“Football, Rugby League, tennis, golf, I played it all.”
While the shot-stopper admits the academic side to his early life wasn’t as important as being outside playing sport, he got “good grades if I put an hour of study in”.
But tennis in particular with its emphasis on good hand-eye coordination appealed to the sport-obsessed kid.
"I was a competitive tennis player at the time growing up and at the end of the day I chose football.
“A lot of my mates played football and if I’d played tennis I would have lost a lot of them.
“Also I’m a very sore loser!
“So when I lost a point I was breaking a lot of racquets which in turn made my mother very angry at me as she had to buy the racquets!
“So there were a number of times she walked away from watching me play tennis because I was very angry.”
No doubt though that tennis assisted Ryan, who is well-known as a keeper with special decision-making skills and hand-eye coordination.
It's helped him win his 13 Socceroo caps thus far, and along the way awards such as keeper of the Year in the Hyundai A-League and Belgium Pro League as well as Hyundai A-League Young Footballer of the Year.
Torino coach Giampiero Ventura witnessed first-hand the athleticism of Ryan in a recent Europa League encounter. And he was left in doubt about the Socceroo's class.
“Faced with a great performance against a very strong team and a goalkeeper who performed at least three or four truly extraordinary saves,” he told Sport Mediaset.
“I have to compliment him [Ryan], some of those saves were incredible."
Former Belgian keeper Wim De Conninck described Ryan as a "leader in the making" last year.
And with speculation there was interest from Real Madrid earlier this year, Ryan's clearly a man in demand.
He added: "Obviously in sport you need to make decisions and I became a bit of a natural in that regard in anything I tried.
“And as a keeper, decision-making is one of the most parts of it. A lot of sports involved hand-eye coordination. League and touch footy I played a lot of.
“I guess that’s why our country has such a reputation for producing good goalkeepers."
We’ll never know what might’ve happened if our Socceroo gloveman had swapped saving shots for forehand volleys.
“I often think back to if I’d made a different decision and go with tennis.
“Or play a different sport to see where it would’ve led. If I wasn’t a footballer I would have had a crack at a different sport," Ryan added.
But I can’t complain with the decision I’ve made.
“And there’s still so much more to look forward to. I’m loving it.”
Make sure you get your family and friends together and RISE with the Socceroos! Tickets are available by clicking here www.socceroos.com.au/tickets
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