For a team that has just shipped six goals in its last two games, it might sound odd to suggest that one position Australia doesn’t really have too many concerns about is goalkeeper.
Mat Ryan, the usual number one, has just signed a five-year deal with Brighton, the Premier League newboys, for what is being reported as a club record fee.
Mitch Langerak, who played against Brazil in the 4-0 loss on Tuesday night – not that he could have done a lot about several of the Brazilian goals – is also on the way to the top flight, in his case in Germany’s Bundesliga. He was between the posts for Stuttgart as they won promotion back to the highest levels of German football last year.
This country has always had a terrific reputation when it comes to developing shot stoppers.
In recent years we have been spoiled with the likes of the evergreen Mark Schwarzer and the brilliant Mark Bosnich, whose career, though the envy of most (how many men get to play for both Chelsea and Manchester United?) ended with a sense of unfulfilment for reasons that had little to do with his goalkeeping ability.
Zeljko Kalac was the third member of that goalkeeping triumvirate, and while he usually had to play second fiddle to Schwarzer, he did spend years at the highest level during his club career including a spell at AC Milan where he was first choice.
Before them there were men like Robert Zabica, Jeff Olver, and going back to the 1970s custodians like Ron Corry and Jack Reilly, the latter of whom was between the posts when Australia made its first ever appearance at a World Cup, in 1974 in Germany.
Interestingly it shares a reputation for producing good quality goalkeepers with another nation for whom soccer is not the number one sport, the United States.
In both countries football codes which favour catching and running (rugby league and union here, gridiron in the US) are the most popular, yet the US has, in recent times, developed a number of goalkeepers who played at the highest levels: Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Friedel all had long spells in the English Premier League, for example.
Australia goes to this Confederations Cup with Ryan, whose outfield game (his ability to play out from the back gives him an advantage over Langerak, as the number one, but with the former Melbourne Victory and Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper snapping at his heels for a spot in the starting berth.
Also in the party is Danny Vukovic, who is older than the other two but is a late developer at international level. He is coming off the best season of his career having been the anchor in the Sydney FC defence that won the Championship and Premiership double in the A-League last season.
There are several other keepers who might, at some stage, hope to break through. Adam Federici, who is at Bournemouth in the EPL, has been in and out of Socceroo squads. Mark Birighitti is at Premiership Swansea, though not first choice.
Ryan is happy to have completed his move from Valencia to Brighton but just wants to focus on the job at hand in the Confederations Cup in Russia.
“Representing the national team is top of my mind now,” he says.
A lot has happened to Ryan, who won an A-League title with Central Coast Mariners at the start of his career. Since then he has moved firstly to Belgium, then Spain, and now the Premiership. And he has also played in a World Cup and won an Asian Cup.
“I am aged 25 now and I suppose I am just riding life. It’s been a journey. Being successful helps you create the best memories.”
The CV sounds like a litany of success, but it hasn’t always been as straightforward as it might appear.
“It all seemed to be going pretty smoothly from Australia to Club Brugge, having two good seasons there and everything going well.
“Then the national team coming in, then getting the big move to Valencia, but from then on it’s been a learning curve of a different kind. Up to that point it was learning curves on the pitch, facing the opposition and getting a real feel for playing at the highest level.
“At Valencia I had to learn how to deal with other challenges as well like not being selected, not being the starting keeper, dealing with injuries and instability in the club with the changing of coaches.
“You will not find a player who has not gone through a difficult period in their career. You try and relate back to the stories of experienced guys you have heard from in the past, how they dealt with things when they have been in similar situations – injured or not being in favour with the coach.
‘It’s important that, as hard as it is not to let the disappointment upset or affect you, you realise that whinging or sooking is not going to get you anywhere. You have to work hard, get your head down and remain professional.
“It’s going to make you stronger mentally. That will help get you back to playing rather than having a sulk by being distracted and disappointed. You have to focus your energy back on training, gym and being ready to play.”
Ryan sees the Confederations Cup as a chance to put down a marker for Russia 2018 and the World Cup.
“I am excited by the chance to show the world and Australia how far we have come since we last played opposition like this. Since the last World Cup we have been a relatively new and young squad. We have had a lot of experience since then, including winning the Asian Cup.
“Most of the squad are from Europe or playing overseas.It’s a compliment to us as a squad. It represents us in a good way, to show we have so many players in good leagues in Europe, in some of the biggest and toughest leagues, getting game time and playing through a heavy schedule.
“It’s only going to help us as a team. The more you play in these big tournaments the more you get used to these competitive situations.
“The goal is to make noise at these big tournaments like the World Cup, and in order to do that you need to be beating the sort of teams we will be meeting in the next month.”
Surely though as only one player can play in such a specialist position there is tension and rivalry in the squad? Does the Goalkeepers Union really exist in the way it is said to do.
Ryan says that he, Langerak and Vukovic all get along even though they are striving for the one spot.
“We have a good professional mentality in the squad. There is always individual disappointment if you are not selected, but the coaching staff and the boss have made it very clear that just because you are not selected in one game doesn’t mean you can’t have an influence in the game.
“He (coach Ange Postecoglou) always brings up the example of Mario Gotze in the last World Cup final.
“He scored the winner in extra time and he was a sub. He could have easily thought when not selected that it was the worst day of his life, lost concentration, got distracted, but he turned what might have been the worst day of his career at the start to becoming the most positive story in his career, by going out and scoring the winning goal.
“We have a good working and professional relationship and all want to be ready to play their part when needed.”
Source : The Canberra Times