The special bond between two Socceroos goalkeepers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 13: Sydney FC goalkeeper Danny Vukovic poses for a picture on January 13, 2017 in Sydney, . (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)San Pedro Sula: Danny Vukovic didn’t know him at the time, but a 12-year-old kid watched across the playground wanting to emulate him at high school. Vukovic was in year 12 at Westfields Sports High and had already landed a contract with Parramatta Power in the National Soccer League, when another child starting year seven at the football institution in Sydney’s west began looking to him for inspiration.
Word travels fast in schoolyards and with Vukovic on the cusp of turning professional and his name about to be etched on the honour roll, a young Mat Ryan had already decided those were the footsteps he wanted to follow.
“I grew up pretty much idolising him,” Ryan said. “He went to my school at Westfields and European football was past my bedtime when it was on so I wasn’t really watching too much of it.”
The two didn’t cross paths until years later but shared a similarity in that they were both pupils of goalkeeping coach, John Crawley. It was Vukovic’s desire to stay under his guidance that prompted him to move north from Sydney to join the Central Coast Mariners at the start of the A-League three years later.
“I truly believe that he [Crawley] is the best goalkeeper coach in . His track record with goalkeepers speaks for itself. He just has a real knack for developing goalkeepers and getting the best out of them,” Vukovic said.
It was there Vukovic first heard mention of his No.1 fan. He was told about the prodigal talent at his former school that Crawley was still guiding.
“I distinctly remember John Crawley talking about Mat. John was still coaching at Westfield Sports High School while he was my goalkeeper coach at Central Coast Mariners. He said that he has a special goalkeeper at school and Mat is who he was talking about,” Vukovic said.
“It’s an honour to be anyone’s idol. It’s something that I don’t take lightly and it’s nice to hear those words.”
Ryan couldn’t wait past the age of 17 to follow Vukovic up the Pacific Highway to further his development under Crawley at the Mariners. For the first time, the master and apprentice trained alongside each other.
“Danny was up there from the beginning and playing. From then, I started supporting the Mariners from the beginning,” Ryan said. “I was in the youth team and fortunate enough to work with him as a young guy, training with him.”
The trio spent just one season together before a deal to join Turkish club Genclerbirligi??? pried Vukovic away from the Central Coast, only for his contract to be terminated months later. His departure gave Ryan a shot at becoming the club’s No.1 at the age of 18.
It wasn’t until this year the two were reunited for the Socceroos. Ryan had gone from admirer to the starting goalkeeper, while a long, often difficult, career for Vukovic had started providing the deserved rewards in the form of an A-League championship and international call-up.
For 32-year-old Vukovic, he isn’t surprised that he’s now looking up to his former apprentice.
“I remember back to when he was a young keeper and he was starting at the Mariners. He would make an early error in the game and then go on to have a man-of-the-match performance. That certainly stood out to me back then,” he said.
Ryan hasn’t forgotten where they came from either and after leaving Belgium club Genk at the end of his loan deal in June, he made every effort to ensure they replaced him with the goalkeeper he wanted to become.
“I knew they were going to be looking for a goalkeeper … and they asked me about Danny. I just said my honest opinion about him. I’m not saying my word influenced anything but he did that on his own accord,” Ryan said. “I’m happy for him that he’s finding his feet over there and doing well.”
For 10 of the last 11 games, the two have trained together with the Socceroos. Time nor distance has strained their bond. At the Socceroos’ final training session before their play-off match against Honduras, it was telling the two placed their yoga mats alongside one another during their warm-up stretches at the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula.
“Thankfully now we have this relationship playing for the Socceroos, it’s a nice journey and he’s a great guy away from football and he’s a great professional in football,” Ryan said.
Those footsteps he followed in Fairfield school grounds could now take him to Russia.