How Ryan proved Premier League giants wrong to reach the pinnacle

Graham Arnold admits that, like Premier League giants Tottenham, he had doubts about Mat Ryan.

In fairness, neither could have expected the unfinished product they first viewed several years ago would be heading to a second successive FIFA World Cup by the age of 26.

That rapid journey began purely by chance when then-Central Coast Mariners coach Arnold was forced to hand the 18-year-old a Hyundai A-League debut in August 2010.

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"I have to be honest, I didn't really have the confidence in him at the start," Arnold told FFA TV.


"I walked into the Mariners, my first job in the A-League, and I wanted an experienced goalkeeper. I lost Danny Vukovic, the club sold him to Turkey, and I ended up getting Jess Vanstratten.

"[Four rounds] into the competition, Jess Vanstratten did his ACL. It was the day before a game, I had to throw Maty in, and the rest is history.

"I think he felt as well that I didn't have that first belief in him and trust, but he just had this attitude that he wanted to prove me wrong.

"John Crawley, his mentor, had this huge belief in him. He was trying to convince me year one, give the kid a chance, the kid won't let you down, and after we lost Vukovic things couldn't have turned out any better."

Over the space of three seasons, Ryan became the standout shot-stopper in the Hyundai A-League and was constantly looking for ways to improve himself.

He badgered Arnold into allowing him to join training sessions with the outfield players to sharpen what has become world-class distribution with the ball at feet.

Mat Ryan
Ryan won the Premiers Plate and a Grand Final with the Mariners.

But the prospect of an overseas move was the real prize and stirred impatience in Ryan, who would encounter more resistance to his dream of playing at the top despite a burgeoning reputation as Australia's long-term number one.

"He was always panicking and we had many conversations. He felt that he wasn't tall enough to play in the English Premier League," Arnold said.

READ: Mat Ryan's FIFA World Cup story

"That was the feedback. He went to Tottenham for a trial and the feedback was he's only [184cm] and in the UK [they] want goalkeepers that are 195cm.

"I think he felt that was something that could have stood in his way. Then the offer came from Club Brugge, a big club in Belgium and he went over there as a second goalkeeper. 

"The same sort of thing happened over there. He went over there and in pre-season the number one goalkeeper got injured, Maty got his chance, he took it, and the other keeper never got back in."

Mat Ryan
Ryan's form in Belgium took him to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Arnold has remained in close contact with Ryan and offered advice to help guide his former player through a struggle for confidence following his arrival at Brighton and Hove Albion in 2017. 

The two-time Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year revealed his former coach had "nailed" the issue and, after working with Sydney FC's mental coach Mike Conway, he went on to star in his debut Premier League season.

He's now a fan-favourite at the Amex Stadium and Arnold attributes the close blond with supporters to Ryan's mother and sister.

"He's very grateful for the life he’s having," the soon-to-be Caltex Socceroos boss said.

"The way he was brought up, his mother brought him up on great morals and he pays back to the fans."

Mathew Ryan during a media session