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In Focus: Ex-Seagulls star Ryan flying high again at Alkmaar
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Matthew Hill
Mat Ryan is enjoying his football again with AZ Alkmaar
Mat Ryan is enjoying his football again with AZ Alkmaar

Eredivisie surprise package AZ Alkmaar will hope to defy the odds once more when they face Lazio in the Europa Conference League last 16.

Pascal Jansen’s men are just five points off top spot in their domestic league but face a stern test in Rome this evening against esteemed Serie A opposition.

If they are to keep the tie alive ahead of next week’s second leg on home turf, they will need a big performance from their goalkeeper — well-travelled Australian international Mat Ryan.

We take a closer look at how the ex-Arsenal and Brighton man is finding life in the Netherlands

On the road again

Ryan is only 30 years of age but already boasts an extensive list of former clubs.

The Socceroos star left his homeland in 2013 and enjoyed stints with Club Brugge, Valencia and Genk before heading to the Premier League with Brighton in 2017.

On the South Coast, Ryan established himself as a Premier League regular, missing just four fixtures in three seasons as he racked up 25 clean sheets in 110 top-flight appearances. 

Things started to unravel during the 2020-21 campaign however, when Graham Potter dropped Ryan in mid-December after a poor run of form before informing him he was free to leave the club.

Reflecting on that period, Ryan said: "Graham said to me, ‘Knowing you and how you are as a person and a footballer, with a willingness to be playing and contributing to a team, I suggest if you get a good offer in January that you take it’.

"I was a bit shocked to hear that at the time and how it all unfolded."

Struggling to settle

A frustrating spell at Real Sociedad saw Mat Ryan make just nine appearances in all competitions
A frustrating spell at Real Sociedad saw Mat Ryan make just nine appearances in all competitions

That bombshell prompted the start of a tough period.

As fans in England will recall, Ryan swiftly secured a loan move to Arsenal but would make only three appearances for the club he supported as a boy.

A permanent switch to LaLiga outfit Real Sociedad came next, though he soon found himself relegated to second choice in Spain and left to join Danish side Copenhagen last summer.

Once again, Ryan was dislodged as No1 midway through the campaign and Alkmaar swooped in January to bring in the experienced custodian during the recent winter window.

Finally, the Aussie’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better since moving to Holland.

Finding his feet

Alkmaar boss Jansen wasted little time instilling Ryan as his preferred stopper, though the new arrival endured a slightly rocky start.

Conceding eight goals in his first four Eredivisie outings — including five during a bonkers 5-5 draw with FC Utrecht — the Aussie must have been fearing losing his starting spot once again.

Jansen, however, kept the faith.

The 50-year-old coach said: "Mathew has conceded quite a few goals, but keep in mind that he has always had to deal with other central defensive duos.

"Changes in the base of the team disrupt the stability. You try to prevent that, but in the current situation, it was unavoidable."

That vote of confidence appears to have done the trick, with Ryan conceding only three times in his subsequent four outings and keeping two clean sheets.

Vast experience

Mat Ryan captained Australia at the 2022 World Cup
Mat Ryan captained Australia at the 2022 World Cup

Tonight’s clash with Lazio is set to be Ryan’s first continental outing for Alkmaar, though the occasion is unlikely to phase the 79-cap international.

As well as his significant Premier League experience, Ryan’s spot as Australia’s first-choice stopper and skipper has seen him square up to many of the game’s most feared attackers.

Only three months ago, he was between the sticks as Graham Arnold’s plucky underdogs sealed second spot in Group D at the 2022 World Cup, qualifying alongside France and at the expense of Denmark and Tunisia.

Though an error of his would ultimately cost the Socceroos in their last-16 clash with eventual winners Argentina, Ryan had an impressive tournament overall — especially having played precious little club football beforehand.

Having helped his nation stun Christian Eriksen and Co in Qatar, a famous victory in the Stadio Olimpico would merely be another feather in the cap of the nomadic No1.


AZ AlkmaarEuropa Conference LeagueEredivisieMathew RyanBrighton & Hove Albion
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