Socceroo goalkeeper Mat Ryan’s move to Arsenal made headlines last week, as the lone Aussie Premier League regular made an emotional move to London.
As a boyhood Gunners fan, Ryan was clear when explaining the passion he felt for the club and the honour he know feels in being given the opportunity to represent it on the pitch.
The reality of his short term future in an Arsenal jersey will be mainly cup fixtures and a back-up role to Bernd Leno, with the German having done little wrong this season in an improving team.
Where that leaves Ryan in the long term is uncertain. Regular football must, as always, be a priority for our Socceroos playing abroad; something the 28-year-old has enjoyed in 121 games at Brighton and Hove Albion.
When Graham Arnold receives the all clear to re-assemble his squad for the first two of the four remaining matches in the current phase of World Cup qualification beginning in late March, a sharp Mat Ryan will be an important cog in it.
Barring quarantine issues preventing overseas based players from participating, which I would guess is still a hypothetical reality, the Sydney born shot stopper would no doubt be a clear first pick in national colours.
However, based on the current depth and form in Australia’s goal keeping stocks, even Ryan himself would be under no illusions that his selection is ever automatic.
Mitch Langerak kept 17 clean sheets during the 2020 J-League season with Nagoya Grampus and still looms as the likely number two to Ryan in Arnold’s thinking, however another former A-League star is also impressing abroad.
Danny Vukovic has now made near 100 league starts for KRC Genk. The Belgian club sits third on the ladder, with the Australian the number one man on a week to week basis, as his team continues its seemingly forlorn chase of runaway leader Club Brugge.
Should circumstances force Arnold to seek a domestic player to fill Ryan’s shoes in the upcoming games, there is a host of men suitable and deserved of an opportunity.
Andrew Redmayne continues his extended run of stellar play, with Sydney’s problems existing at the other end of the pitch and nowhere near Redmayne’s goal mouth.
Adam Federici has reminded everyone of his class since returning to Australia with Macarthur FC. From game one he has been switched on, decisive and while many would suggest it is unlikely the 35-year-old would receive a call up from Arnold at this stage of his career, it would not be undeserved based on form.
Any A-League fans not taking notice of Mark Birighitti’s continued excellence on the Central Coast need to observe more closely. Capped for the Socceroos in 2013 and still just 29, Birighitti has been nothing but superb this season; finally playing consistently in Australia again after a few ponderous years abroad.
A duo of young, improving and consistent Australian keepers are also waiting in the wings for an opportunity and Arnold will be closely monitoring their stages of development, both during this A-League season and if the Olyroos do eventually make the trip to Tokyo to compete in an already postponed Olympics.
Many doubted that Daniel Margush had the poise and experience to take on the duties at Western Sydney as the club’s number one, yet the Adelaide born keeper has been superb for the Wanderers.
A few positional errors and decisions have let him down at times, however like Melbourne City’s Tom Glover, he is just a handful of years away from becoming the finished article.
Now 23, Glover commands his box like a veteran and many believe the man born in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney is the long term replacement for Ryan in national colours.
Just as the A-League has begun with a thunderous bang, as young stars emerge in what many claimed would be a competition that more resembled a wasteland, so too have the goal keepers been superb.
Position wise, it is most likely the one that Graham Arnold loses sleep over the least; knowing that there are a host of current directions in which he could turn depending upon circumstances.
It would probably be best for the Socceroos chances over the next 12 months if Mat Ryan were to play the custodian role most of the time.
However, the current crop of Australian keepers is something of which to be proud and any additional shot stoppers who do receive the chance to aid the Socceroos chances of progressing to the World Cup in 2022, will do so having well deserved the opportunity.