Posts Categorized: Football

A lot of time for… @MatyRyan

I can vividly remember standing against a fence waiting for a training session to finish on what is now the site of the Central Coast Mariners Centre of Excellence some four years ago. I had not long started working with the Mariners, and while I had met most of the playing squad one player I hadn’t at that time met was goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

Ryan had burst onto the Hyundai A-League scene the season prior, coming into the Central Coast starting eleven early in the campaign for the unfortunately injured Jess Vanstrattan, and subsequently wowing fans, rivals and media alike with his impressive performances – performances that would see him claim a series of personal honours, including the Joe Marston Medal, in his rookie year.

Ryan wasn’t training that day – in fact, he was a way off training again. Had everything gone smoothly, Ryan would have been readying himself to venture to the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia with an Australian squad that included then club teammates and close friends Bernie Ibini (now Sydney FC), Mustafa Amini (now Borussia Dortmund), Trent Sainsbury (now PEC Zwolle), and Sam Gallagher (now Newcastle Jets). But a knee injury had struck to put a dampener on what was an otherwise remarkable 2010-11 for the kid born and raised in Sydney’s west.

Ryan arrived mid-way through the session and, like me, came to the fence to watch the remainder of training then check in with the coaching staff. While we waited for ‘Arnie’ [Graham Arnold] to call time on training we got to chatting and, humbly, Ryan played down his debut season in Australia’s top flight. He showed some natural and understandable disappointment when asked about missing the forthcoming youth World Cup in South America, but added words to the effect of “more opportunities will come”.

How right the Hyundai A-League Premier & Champion, AFC Asian Cup Winner, two-time Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year, would be.

From mid-2011 to mid-2013 I was fortunate to be close enough to the Central Coast camp to watch Ryan develop his game under the tutelage of John Crawley – a coach and man (in my opinion) of under-appreciated quality. In this period we ventured around Australia and Asia, Ryan getting lasers pointed in his eyes from fans in freezing Tianjin, China, making his full Socceroos debut in Hong Kong, and earning an increasing amount of individual honours. The Twitter hashtag #ThingsMatRyanCanStop sparked from his insane personal performance against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park was another highlight, but nothing would top the magic 48 hours experienced in April 2013 when the team won the Hyundai A-League Championship over Western Sydney Wanderers, flew to Korea Republic the very next morning, then defeated Suwon Bluewings in the AFC Champions League. Mat Ryan central to it all, of course, and improving with every challenge.

On a trip to Europe in August last year, I decided it would be a great time to venture to Belgium to see Ryan – who by that time had gone to another level again – play for Club Brugge. I contacted Mat in the weeks before to let him know I was coming, hoping only that he may be able to spare some time for a coffee in amongst his busy schedule. Instead, Mat offered that I not only stay a couple of nights in his apartment in beautiful Brugge, but picked me up at the Station when I arrived. Then, on the day of Club’s away match at the interesting Regenboogstadion against Zulte Waragem, Ryan threw me the keys to his (rather slick European) auto and told me not to waste time in catching the train, but drive his car to the fixture instead.

“Just pick me up at the Jan Breydel [Club Brugge’s home ground and base] when the bus gets back tonight,” Ryan said as the keys flew in my direction. 

That’s the type of person Mat Ryan is, and I believe will remain, no matter how much more he achieves in his already decorated career. And, if legendary Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s career can be used as any example, Ryan could well play on into his late 30s or early 40s. Certainly he has every opportunity to do so. Those who know him understand not only how hard he trains, but how focussed he is in looking after himself and how discerning he is in his lifestyle choices.

Eat, sleep, train repeat. Eat, sleep, play, repeat. Eat, sleep, travel, train, repeat. 

Tonight Ryan could earn his first piece of significant team silverware in Europe when he steps out for Club Brugge against Anderlecht in the Belgian Cup Final in Brussels. Just days ago he was in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, playing a key role in his side’s round of 16 victory over Besiktas at the raucous Atatürk Olympic Stadium. By virtue of that success, a trip to Ukraine to face to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in April awaits. Before that, Ryan is set to play in friendlies for the Socceroos against Germany in Kaiserslautern, and FYR Macedonia in Skopje. And let’s not forget domestic duties, where Club Brugge currently leads the competition with 61 points from 30 matches.

Mat Ryan, the boy from Plumpton, has come a long way since his days playing for Central Coast Mariners Youth at Pluim Park in little Lisarow. But at just 22, his story is only beginning to be written.


Big Six: Tips For Aspiring Sports Media Professionals

This week I found myself in discussion with a football coach talking culture within a football club and, as importantly, how fortunate each person who works in the sport for a living ought to feel.

One of the remarks I made to the coach was that when I was in high school – perhaps even in the early stages of University – working full-time in professional football seemed extremely distant. A dream.

I told him that I used to wonder just how people came to be employed in the game, and particularly in my area of media, communication, and marketing. Just how are people given the opportunity that so many clearly crave?

So, I thought it might be a good time to put some ideas on ‘paper’ and share with aspiring sports media professionals my top tips for getting a chance – then making the most of it – with a professional sporting organisation.

Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule book or bible, just my ideas and some things that I found useful in my progression from a dreamer to someone who is lucky enough to wake up each morning and get paid to watch, think about, and work in football.

It’s an obvious one, but I think it is so important for people wanting a job in sports media or marketing to get themselves enrolled in University, TAFE, or an equivalent. Passion for and knowledge of your chosen sport is one thing, but having the theoretical underpinnings and general skills in your locker when you go for a gig is another. University is the perfect place to learn skills, fine-tune them, ask for feedback, and explore the topics you enjoy. In my first weeks at University studying Journalism 101 (not the real course name), my tutor recognised that I based all my articles on football (they were undoubtedly cringe worthy!). He asked me if I would be interested in volunteering for Newcastle Jets (see point 2.), and opened the door for me to do so. I can’t say that it will happen for everyone, but the people you meet at University could shape your life more than they may ever know.

I think most sports media, communication or marketing students would be surprised to know how willing and open clubs and organisations are when it comes to accepting volunteers and giving young people a go. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to volunteer for Newcastle Jets in 2008, working on matchday media operations and website articles for two seasons. Volunteering with as a writer followed. There is a limit as to how much of your time you should give for free, and you need to determine for yourself when you deserve to be remunerated. But certainly volunteering, showing your skills, and learning from people already in the business (people who have most likely had to tread the same path) can be an invaluable experience. I ended up as the best man at my first volunteer “boss’” wedding, so not only can you make some fantastic industry contacts, but some great mates.

Didn’t we just cover this? Kind of – this one is slightly different. Once you land your first gig, I suggest giving your time for bigger organisations again. When I started with Central Coast Mariners, the opportunity came about to work on international matches for Football Federation Australia (FFA). This was a superb opportunity to learn from people more experienced than myself, and like a player, take international experience back to the domestic scene. Some of the people who I gave my time for have become not only good friends, but crucial industry contacts and mentors.

Whatever your game, working or volunteering at the highest level available to you at your career stage ought to be a top priority. 

You’ve been to University, volunteered plenty of hours and landed your first gig – now you need to amplify your network. Some contacts will come about naturally as you delve into your work, but getting to know other people may take more time and effort. I recommend using Twitter as a professional tool to converse with industry contacts and people you respect and want to work with (leave Facebook for your high school friends and University mates). If I had a dollar for every football industry contact I ‘got to know’ on Twitter before I actually met them in person I could buy a Category A ticket to this season’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final. It’s powerful, and an important place for you to present yourself professionally, learn, and share ideas. Consider attending conferences and networking events too, and go out of your way every so often to shout someone you might work with long term or admire a coffee.

I recommend going for a job that’s most likely out of your league (for the time being at least!). I remember going for a job at the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee back in 2013 when, in hindsight, I was underqualified. Of course, rejection felt bad at the time, but thinking about it now I realise why I in fact wasn’t the best fit for the job. Considering why you didn’t get a gig allows you to reflect on what areas you need to improve – much like a player aiming for a transfer from the Hyundai A-League to one of Europe’s top leagues! In the end another opportunity to be involved with the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (albeit in a lesser capacity) arose and I got that chance to work at the tournament. One door closes, another opens.

There’s no substitute.



Retrospective: Andrew Barisic

Two years ago I ventured on a three week journey around South East Asia, watching and chatting to a range of Australian footballers and coaches. A number of stories followed from these meetings. Here is a retrospective look at the three days I spent with Andrew Barisic in Malang, Indonesia. Andrew is a well-travelled attacker, and is currently playing his football with Kerala Blasters in the much-publicised Indian Premier League. Since leaving Arema Malang, Andrew’s played in India (twice), Australia, and Hong Kong. Andrew is pictured with Kerala Blasters co-owner Sachin Tendulker above. 

Andrew Barisic is a name most ardent Hyundai A-League fans would be familiar with. The 26-year-old striker spent two seasons with Gold Coast United in Australia’s top flight, scoring a handful of goals during a stop-start spell with the now defunct club.

Stuck behind the likes of acclaimed marksman Shane Smeltz and Joel Porter during his days on the glitter strip, it was in 2011 that Barisic swapped Skilled Park, Robina for the Gelora 10 November Stadium, Surabaya, embarking on a fruitful spell in Indonesian football.

Barisic’s move to East Java and one of Indonesia’s biggest clubs, Persebaya Surabaya, not only rekindled his passion for the game, it also sparked a flurry of goals during his time with ‘the green crocodiles’. It was this form, combined with a change in coach at Persebaya that led him to southern rivals Arema Malang.

Now united with Australian fitness coach Nathan Hall at Arema, Barisic will tonight aim to help his side overturn a two-goal deficit against Saudi Arabian outfit Al Ettifaq at the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Stadium in Dammam.

“It’s been really good, to be honest,” Barisic said of his time in Indonesia. “When I first came to Arema we had a whole change in team management and coaches, so at the start we only got one or two good results.”

“But slowly the team gathered some experience together, and playing as a group we slowly gelled. 13 games we went without a loss which got us through to the second round of the AFC Cup where we beat Kitchee from Hong Kong.”

Indeed, Barisic and Hall’s experience in Asia’s second tier club tournament has taken them to a variety of unique destinations around East Asia thus far. From Myanmar to Malaysia, Vietnam to Hong Kong, the pair are working towards advancing to the final four of the AFC Cup should they manage to fight their way back into the contest tonight.

Last Tuesday, Al Ettifaq won an eventful first leg in Malang 2-0. With the floodlights at the Gajayana Stadium failing in the 51st minute, the home team struggled to find their rhythm after the unplanned 20-minute break.

The return match against the Saudi’s marks the duo’s first foray into West Asia, and along with Slovakian attacker Roman Chmelo, Barisic will be tasked with netting the goals to take the Lions a step closer to AFC Cup glory.

“It was very hard to fight with the likes of Shane Smeltz who has gone to the World Cup,” Barisic said. “I didn’t get much of a chance [at Gold Coast]. But I scored eight goals in 11 games when I first got to Persebaya.”

Barisic would end the controversial Indonesian Premier League season with a total of eight strikes in 15 appearances for Arema, level with Chmelo with whom he has developed an acute understanding. But it has been working with experienced Serbian coach Dejan Antonic, and his assistant Darko Vargec, which has provided further reward. Vargec is a former captain of Red Star Belgrade, and represented the club in the UEFA Champions League.

“Dejan has quite a good name in South East Asian football and is very experienced,” he said. “But Darko and I have private sessions all the time and it’s really helped my game. He [Darko] has certainly helped me on a personal level.”

While Barisic gets by in Indonesia with an ever improving and expanding knowledge of Bahasa, one colleague he has no trouble communicating with is his compatriot Hall. Hall’s journey to Malang can be traced to his time in Sutherland where he worked in the New South Wales Premier League.

After “sacrificing probably four or five years of weekends” studying the philosophies of top teams in Spain, Germany and Italy, Hall earned his break in South East Asian professional football with Thai Premier League club Thai Port. Stints with Thai Tobacco and MuangThong United followed, before Hall was tempted to Malang to try something new.

“For me Bangkok is my second home,” Hall said. “[But] I was working in Thailand for three years and I was umming and ahhing about the possibility of exploring another South East Asian country.

“I went on a short holiday to Vietnam and I received a phone call from my manager. He said Arema had made an offer and that I had 24 hours to accept. At the time I had no job and obviously as a coach you want to keep coaching. For me it was a no-brainer. I made the decision like that to come to Indonesia.”

With the Indonesian league system currently in a state of debate, Arema Malang had not played a competitive match for over two months before last Tuesday’s tie with Al Ettifaq. Limited to a string of friendly fixtures, Hall, along with Antonic and the rest of the Arema coaching staff have had only four weeks to prepare their players for what is arguably one of the biggest tie’s in the clubs history.

Describing the challenge as “unique”, Hall has also had to contend with Ramadan during the preparation phase. 90 per cent of the Arema squad are Muslim, which has made training during the sacred annual period practically impossible.

Still, Hall refuses to throw in the towel.

“They [Al Ettifaq] are a top team,” he said. “They have a smorgasbord of under 23 Saudi national team players, and probably on the whole they are stronger than what we are. But in a knockout match, anything’s possible.”

With a cloud over when the new Indonesian league season will start, neither Barisic nor Hall can confirm where their personal futures exist following the knockout duel with the ’Commandos’ from Dammam.

Nevertheless, both are excited by the chance to carve their names into Indonesian club football history at a time when Indonesian club football is at one of its most historically significant junctures.