The Blacktown City Sports Centre in Sydney’s western suburbs is half a world away from the Al Jannoub Stadium in Doha.
That’s where Mat Ryan will lead the Socceroos out at his third FIFA World Cup in a fortnight’s time, but it’s at the ground formerly known as Gabbie Stadium in Seven Hills where he learnt his trade.
But there was a time when Ryan’s future was in doubt.
After winning the under 14s premiership with Blacktown City, there were questions marks over whether Ryan would be retained for the next season.
“There were a couple of hiccups along the way,” Ryan said.
“There were a couple of years where my selection was in question and what-not.
“I managed to overcome all the obstacles and managed to get the nod every time, it was a big part of my development.”
Mark Crittenden is, now, Blacktown City’s Head of Football and first grade coach.
Then, he was taking over the under15s, and it was Crittenden who was instrumental in ensuring Ryan stayed at the club.
“I always thought he had leadership qualities, there was just something different about him,” Crittenden said.
“Yes, he wasn’t the biggest, but he just gave 100 per cent effort, he had a massive heart, and was a leader, that’s the thing I liked about him.
“Fortunately for us we retained him, and the rest is history.”
Luke Roodenburg is Blacktown City’s Director of Football, and a former player with more than 200 games for the club.
He was first grade captain when Ryan made his senior debut, only a handful of years after the questions over his future were resolved.
Ryan was only 17 years old.
“He played with no fear,” Roodenburg said.
“He went into challenges, he came out for crosses, and he had that real deep voice, so he commanded that box even at such a young age.”
And to Roodenburg, Crittenden, and everyone involved with Blacktown City, Ryan’s rise from under 11s to Socceroos captain, is no surprise at all.
“Those guys, when you see quality like that, they’re not around so often, so they stand out, they’re like a beacon,” Roodenburg said.
“And he was, he’s a big shining light.”