Caltex Socceroo keeper Mat Ryan says his 21 appearances in his first season with Valencia in La Liga have matured him as a player and person.
“Difficult, tough, challenging, enjoyable… everything a footballer can dream off” was his assessment of the season just completed at the Mestalla.
“The biggest thing for me is how difficult it is to win a game [in La Liga] because of the amount of quality in the teams and the individuals.
“Some of the skills they possess has opened my eyes. It’s great to be a part of.”
Ryan, 24, joined the big Spanish outfit as a star in the Belgian League with Club Brugge.
And the former Central Coast player has no doubts his move to Spain has paid off despite being restricted to just 21 appearances at the club.
With two other top keepers in Jaume Domenech and Diego Alves it was always going to be difficult for the Aussie in his first season at Valencia.
"It's rare for a club to have three very good goalkeepers," said Ryan.
“[But] I’ve got no regrets and I’d make that decision again [to move to Spain] a thousand times over.
“Unfortunately in life sometimes injuries and ups and downs in my first year. I faced a lot of new challenges, language, dealing with injuries and not playing, so it hasn’t been easy."
And it was a season made worse by facing a rampant Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey when they put seven goals past him (it was this result that effectively ended Gary Neville's tenure as coach at the Mestalla).
“But I’ve just tried to learn and heed advice from other players who go through it, and the common sense of what to do in these situations by keeping your head down and working hard.
“It’s been an adaptive year to the culture.
“And I played 21 games which isn’t too bad and I had some nice experiences.”
Part of the learning process has been goalkeeper coach at Valencia, the highly respected Jose Manuel Ochoterena.
“My goalkeeper coach is the current Spanish national team keeper coach also.
"It’s a new relationship who’s worked with Reina, Casillas, De Gea… so he has a lot of experience after also playing in La Liga.
“I’ve learnt a lot from him. I guess it’s been a character-building year.”