Soccer

Mat Ryan wants to show Real Sociedad's core values in his displays

‘I felt it was unjust and unfair… it hurt a little bit’: Mat Ryan opens up on his shock demotion from No 1 at Brighton, rebuilding his self-belief at Arsenal and a fresh start in Spain with LaLiga high-flyers Real Sociedad

  • Goalkeeper Mat Ryan has played for three different clubs over the past year
  • Ryan opens up on the shock and hurt of his abrupt departure from Brighton 
  • Australian denies falling out with Graham Potter before sealing Arsenal move 
  • Ryan played just three games but insisted he took self belief to another level 
  • Now at Real Sociedad, the best part of his football journey could still be to come 

Mat Ryan has already faced a fair few challenges to earn and then make a career as a goalkeeper.

In an interview with Sportsmail three years ago, he described how in his early years he was told constantly that he was not good enough and not tall enough to be a goalkeeper.

The last 11 months have also brought along their own set of contrasting obstacles and adversity to overcome, but representing three different clubs and a return to Spain is just another time to adjust and embrace for the ex-Valencia stopper.  

Mat Ryan has faced a rollercoaster 11 months, having represented three clubs in that time

It began when Brighton boss Graham Potter (centre) told Ryan (right) he was no longer needed

‘I have always been someone to just take things in my stride,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘It is not rosy all the time and you don’t always get what you want. Whatever life throws your way, you have got to keep rolling up the sleeves and get on with it and try to enjoy the journey as well.’  

The latest adventure began in December last year following an upheaval of his Brighton career, having dropped to third choice – after three-and-a-half years as No 1 – seemingly in a matter of days.

Boss Graham Potter called the Australian into his office and told him in no uncertain terms he was free to leave and that Robert Sanchez and Jason Steele were all of a sudden above him in the pecking order.

‘Stunned’ was the word Ryan – who made the final of his 123 Brighton appearances in a 3-0 defeat by Leicester that month – has used previously to describe his unforeseen demotion, and that element of shock remains with him even now.

Potter told the Australian that Robert Sanchez (above) would now be his new No 1 goalkeeper

Ryan claims the environment changed for him at Brighton following a summer transfer rumour linking the club with Emi Martinez (above)

‘The biggest surprise was hearing the words coming out of Graham’s mouth. Him saying I could look elsewhere caught me off guard. I knew I perhaps wasn’t in career best form at the time, but I felt as if I hadn’t done too much wrong either. 

‘I was still confident that come the end of the season I would have contributed to the team in playing my part to help us achieve another successful season. But Graham had other ideas. Not that I’m trying to make excuses, but things felt a bit off and different to the environment I had been used to in my three seasons prior. 

‘It started off with a summer transfer rumour to sign Emi Martinez (now at Aston Villa) which my agent and I sought clarity on, but never received an answer from the club, nor did they really squash it either as well as then a couple of other things like contract extensions discussions or lack of. 

‘In the previous seasons I hadn’t felt that uncertainty. I feel as if they were the reasons behind that feeling that things were a bit different and as it turned out it wasn’t an environment I was able to thrive in anymore unfortunately.  

Ryan would not play for Brighton after that meeting with Potter and joined Arsenal on loan

‘We [him and Potter] never had a falling out at all. That’s why it came as such a surprise.  He did his best to justify the situation and the reasoning behind it. I was running high on emotion of the disappointment of the situation I was in, and how it had all come to that. 

‘I felt it was unjust and unfair because of what I had given for the club. I didn’t feel like I was making any major errors but I can understand that a manager has to make decisions based on what he feels best for him and his team.

‘It hurt a little bit given what I had contributed to the club. But I don’t want to continue to harp on about it. I made some fantastic memories there, the club has moved on, and I have moved on and I’ll always continue to support the club as a fan due to the special times and connection we had.’

While Ryan’s race was clearly run on the south coast, his Premier League adventure still had one final leg in north London. Ryan’s loan move to boyhood club Arsenal came out of the blue, but there was little surprise – given the professionalism that Potter and Gunners boss Mikel Arteta both commended – over how he earned it.

In his own words, his debut in the 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa was ‘forced’ following Bernd Leno’s red card at Wolves, but knuckling down and sheer determination earned him the other two of his three appearances in a 1-1 draw with Fulham and 2-0 win at Newcastle.

He made just three appearances for the Gunners, with his debut coming away at Aston Villa

‘I felt I was a bit unlucky not to get some more opportunities and maybe a little bit of a victim that I was there on loan, but I still feel like I got my chance,’ he adds. 

But game time – however limited – was not the most significant boost Ryan received during his six-month stay at Emirates Stadium. That instead came from his battles on the training pitch. 

‘Once I joined Arsenal I felt a lot of stress and pressure off my shoulders from how it finished at Brighton. When I got there I said to myself ”I am just going to go out there and enjoy myself, what have I got to lose?”

‘I had self belief before I arrived, but from my time at Arsenal it grew to a new level. Not in an arrogant way, but in a way that made me realise if I don’t believe I can go out there and be triumphant at this level, then you are already falling at the first hurdle. It is one thing when you are playing for Brighton and you are playing against some of the best players the world has to offer every weekend. 

‘But when I was mixing it day in day out with some of these guys at Arsenal who have played at the pinnacle of the game, and I am being successful and really enjoying the competition against them in training, I turned to look at myself and said ”I’m not half bad either”.  

Ryan (left) believes his self-confidence went to another level in training with the Gunners

Ryan (left) insists Arsenal flop Willian (right) stood out when it came to finishing practice

‘I started putting a few little techniques into practice. I’d be in the training session not saying anything and I would notice that the finishing of the team would be quite good. Then all of a sudden I’ll chirp up and see if I could play a few psychological games on the guys.

‘Just me showing a bit of that character and personality just put a bit more pressure on the guys and I would start performing better, maybe making saves or fewer goals would be going in. They would maybe try and shoot into the corner too hard and hit it wide or hit it a bit closer to me to make a save.’ 

But despite his mind games, Ryan admits he was up against some of the best finishers at Arsenal training, though one name was a surprise inclusion among the usual suspects. 

‘Technically, one that really stands out was Willian. I know he didn’t have the greatest of times there, but within the squad he was so respected and did his best. 

‘Everyone loved him and we all recognised what he brought to the team. I know he got criticised quite a bit, but on a technical finishing level in training and exercises such as penalties and free-kicks, he was definitely up there with your [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, [Alexandre] Lacazette, [Nicolas] Pepe and [Bukayo] Saka.’

But again, Ryan repeats: ‘I have proven to myself that even though I would love to be playing regularly every single week, I don’t need that in order to be playing at a really high level because I feel like I am in some of the best form I have been in in my career.’

Mikel Arteta (left) said he would speak with Edu (right) about offering Ryan a permanent deal, but the club ended up signing Aaron Ramsdale (centre)

Gunners boss Arteta seemingly believed that too, having sat down with the Australia international a week before the end of the season to discuss his immediate future.  The conversation finished with the ex-midfielder confirming he would speak to technical director Edu about offering Ryan a deal.

‘That was the last thing I heard. We just weren’t hearing anything, it was really silent and at a certain point I was getting some other interest.’

Prime among those interested parties were Villarreal – managed by former Gunners boss Unai Emery – and another team from Europe that came calling. However, it was Real Sociedad who eventually won the race.

A chance to represent the team that helped him develop his love for English football may not come around every day, but Ryan does not concern himself with ideal scenarios that never come to fruition.

‘I am not one really to do hypotheticals. If someone asked me what I would buy if I won $10million now… I always feel like you have to be in the situation now to know. Arsenal is a special club, and if the option had been there to continue on, then yes I would have had to look at what that option would have looked like as a whole. 

‘It didn’t eventuate into a concrete opportunity after the loan spell and my decision was made for me. Our understanding was that they were looking for a homegrown goalkeeper from the conversations we had with them.’

Ramsdale has made a flying start to his Gunners career, including a superb save at Leicester

Ryan has nothing but praise for Ramsdale and former Brighton team-mate Ben White (left)

Arsenal certainly got their wish, with a £24million deal for England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale completed after protracted negotiations with Sheffield United over the course of the summer.

The 23-year-old is looking to become the first goalkeeper to win the Premier League Player of the Month award since 2016 after a stellar October which included that incredible save from Leicester midfielder James Maddison’s free-kick.  

Ramsdale was one of six summer signings at Emirates Stadium, one of whom was already familiar to Ryan in the form of Ben White given the duo’s brief days at Brighton together. 

‘What Aaron did [at Leicester], not only then but before then as well, was really established and really confident, with lots of personality and character. They are attributes that make a great goalkeeper. 

‘Ben White is a naturally gifted footballer that reads the game really well and has a really good understanding of it. He has technical qualities as well on the ball. No doubt they have both been great additions in this fresh-faced Arsenal that they have got with all the young players in the squad.

‘Mikel I’m sure wouldn’t like to call it a rebuilding phase because some could interpret that as them not being ambitious and that they are just focused on building the team. But I know with their determination and ambitions they want to be fighting for trophies already, and the team are starting to find their straps now.’ 

Ryan meanwhile ended up joining Real Sociedad in the summer transfer window

The Australia international also had an offer from Villarreal as well as another club in Europe

So for that matter have Real Sociedad so far this season, all while dealing with a number of injuries in the squad.

Boss Imanol Alguacil has only been able to pick the same starting XI once this season, which has seen him turn to the club’s youth academy for solutions. Ryan admits he sees similarities with the situation Arteta found himself in at Arsenal, given the trajectory of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka in north London.

Julen Lobete is perhaps the best known youngster for his goal at Barcelona in their opening game of the season and his stoppage-time winner against Mallorca, but his call-up came as a result of significant established absentees. 

Former Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal, Spain striker Mikel Oyarzabal and Sweden counterpart Alexander Isak have all been missing through injury at some stage. Even Ryan missed the first three games following knee surgery in the summer.

But Alguacil’s ‘no excuses’ policy and switching up formation to suit his players has led his side to the top of the table, above giants Real Madrid, faltering Barcelona and champions Atletico.

However, their position in the table was only a minor contributing factor behind the electric atmosphere created late last month by the 37,066 fans at the Reale Arena – its highest attendance ever – for the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao. 

Real Sociedad boss Imanol Alguacil (centre) has had to contend with a number of injuries

That included Ryan himself, who missed three games following knee surgery in the summer

‘Every time you play for a new team they have always got something distinct that sets them apart from another fan group,’ Ryan adds.

‘Our fans here, the way they celebrate goals, you get the whole stadium doing the Poznan. It is quite a spectacle to see. They jump around quite a lot at the back of the goal. I’ve always thought it was quite cool with what they get up to and the passion that they have.

‘When I first arrived here I automatically got the feeling of a small, authentic family-type club because there aren’t so many foreigners as what I have been used to at other clubs.  

‘They told me when I arrived here that the working mentality of this region here, people are very humble, down to earth and closed off to strangers and people they don’t know, but once you are in that circle, then they are very caring and helpful towards you. 

Ryan impressed on his second start for the club, making six saves in a win at Celta Vigo

‘For us, we get an automatic ticket into the family when we come into the club as a football player. People in the club say when they have had tough moments that everyone just sticks by their club, they are not very critical of the players, they recognise you don’t achieve anything by putting anyone down.’

Ryan’s fellow goalkeeper Alex Remiro is probably the most relieved member of Alguacil’s squad that a cutthroat culture does not exist within the club and among its fanbase.

Just days after Ryan had produced six stunning saves in a win at Celta Vigo, Remiro replaced him but ended up gifting Iker Muniain a 91st minute equaliser in the derby after attempting to punch his free-kick from the left clear.

Alexander Isak had given La Real the lead from the penalty spot, but devastation ultimately awaited Remiro, an ex-Athletic player, with almost the last kick of the game. But Ryan was one of many of his team-mates to try and console an ultimately inconsolable figure.

Ryan was left in awe at the passion of the club’s fans for the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao

‘I am not looking for any recognition or plaudits, but the game finished and I walked straight over to him. I can empathise with him, we have all been there and made mistakes and know how difficult it is. 

‘Given the context of the game that late on in a derby, I could see by his body language he was quite upset. I just said to him, ”keep your head up, you have done so much good for this club. It is the life of a goalkeeper and one little moment like that can happen. We learn from it and move forward. This hard moment right now is going take you on to bigger and better things, you will see”.

‘I don’t know how much of it he heard as he was pretty distraught and upset, but I happened to see him the next day when he came in and he thanked me for my words. It is life’s way of showing us how to learn and improve and become better, and I just wanted to make sure he was acknowledging that fact.’

Real Sociedad have also demonstrated that they have absorbed lessons on how to progress as club, having been in Europe in five of the last nine seasons.  

Alex Remiro replaced him in goal for that game but his error handed the visitors a draw

Iker Muniain (centre) scored a 91st-minute free-kick after Remiro attempted to punch it clear

A Copa del Rey victory – courtesy of beating, of all teams, Bilbao in the final – last season was their first since 1986-87. Now given their lofty status in LaLiga, hopes have risen of ending their forty-year title drought.

However, both Ryan’s personal and collective goals remain much more in the short-term than any longer-term planning. 

‘I haven’t played a game at home just yet so I will be waiting for that one and tick that off the list. Hopefully it isn’t too far away.

‘We don’t want to talk about trophies. Our objective is over the course of the year, how many days we can rock up to train with humility and that attitude to work and that hunger for success and trying to do the best we can each day and tick all the boxes we can on a day-to-day basis and see where it takes us. 

‘We all want to win, winning trophies is the best feeling, but all that is a reward and bonus if we are able to fulfil those objectives.’  

La Real won the Copa del Rey last season for the first time since their 1986-87 campaign




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