“Sydney FC star Rhyan Grant out for A-League season after rupturing ACL…” — October, 2013
“Grant suffers ACL injury…ruled out for several months…” — July, 2017
Fast-forward 10 months and Grant is stepping up and calmly converting a penalty against Perth Glory to help Sydney secure the A-League Grand Final title. Grant made a total of 30 appearances for Sydney that season, which saw them finish second in the table, secure qualification for next year’s AFC Champions League, and also finish as runners up in the FFA Cup, falling short to Adelaide United.
A major highlight of his 2018-19 season has to be his call-up to the Socceroos, as well as his inclusion in the 23-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers. Last season also capped off his 10th year as a Sydney FC player, impressively making him the first Sydney FC player to do so in the club’s history.
After a hectic 12 months, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rhyan Grant to talk injuries, football, and the future.
Suffering an ACL injury is always devastating, but you recovered and proceeded to have a break-out season last year not only winning the championship, but also receiving your first caps as a Socceroo. What do you think pushed you through that tough period, and what made you come back even stronger?
It was actually my second time I had done it, so I think having done one previously I knew what to sort of expect, which people say can be a good thing, but at the same time it’s sort of a bad thing because you know the road ahead of you. I sort of approached it in the way that regardless of if you’re a professional footballer or somebody else, or whatever job you do, you’re going to have to do the work to get your knee back if you want to be even jogging or playing sport in any capacity. Regardless, I was going to have to do the work, so I approached it that way where I had to make sure I was doing everything right and ticking all the boxes.
A few people gave me advice, especially the first time I did my knee, to use the downtime to make the most of it, because as a footballer you don’t get much time to relax and do whatever. So, I used that time to get away from football, go away on the weekends and travel a little bit, obviously just around Sydney, you know down the coast, up the coast. I think having something else to keep you occupied and to look forward to helped me get through it, and then when I had to do the things I had to do at training, it made it a lot easier. So, getting away from football and having something to concentrate on was a big part of it.
And the people around you must’ve been super important.
Yeah, definitely. Family and friends and that, they do everything they can for you. Obviously there are tough times, but at the same time it is just an injury, it’s just football; there are a lot worse things happening in the world, so if you look at it like that, with a bit of perspective, it makes it a bit easier. Yeah, I had a lot of people around me that got me up when I was feeling bad and made them good times. A lot of people to thank.
You’re the first player to have reached 10 years at Sydney FC. How does that feel?
It’s a huge honour. Obviously there’s been a lot of great players come through Sydney, a number of players that have spent a number of years here, but to be the first to get to 10 years is a pretty cool achievement and something I’m pretty proud of. I think when you retire you look back at it and sort of take it in then, but at the moment, I’ve been doing this for 10 years at the same club so it’s just the same sort of thing. You come in and do what you have to do, so it is just another day, but I know that speaking to my old man and friends and fans, that they see it as quite an achievement. So, I am very honoured to be that player, but like I said, there’s a lot of good players that have come through, but I am pretty chuffed to get to 10 years.
You capped off your decade at Sydney FC with a grand final win against Perth Glory, interestingly the team debuted against for the senior team in the 2008/09 season. You scored a penalty in the shootout to help clinch the grand final win, what were your emotions in the moments leading up to the penalty and after the win?
Firstly, taking a penalty in one of the games where there weren’t a lot of chances and one that was pretty cagey, no one really wanted to lose the game; naturally, it’s a grand final. There were few little scuffles during the game, and I was getting quite a bit of stick from the fans and the opposite players, so when it came to penalties and the coach was asking who was keen, I put my hand up, but I wouldn’t normally take penalties, I’m not the most technically gifted player.
It was a great penalty, though, it hit the roof of the net.
Yeah, I’ll take that. But it was more just to get back at the fans for giving me the stick, it sort of gave me that little bit of drive, and I was eager to take one and make sure I buried it. Thankfully enough, I did score it. I know Rocket guessed that right way, but lucky enough for me it worked out well in the end. Winning the game was huge, and obviously we were pumped, and we made the most of the celebrations for the next couple of games, so yeah it was a good time.
How do you clear your head when you take a penalty? Because as you said, you’re getting stick from the crowd.
It was a weird moment. For games I don’t get that nervous, and for the grand final I wasn’t that nervous, but obviously taking a penalty when all the spotlights are on you is quite nerve-racking, but I sort of just didn’t really feel it. As I was saying before, you put things into perspective and it is just a football game and I know that means a lot to people and it gives them a livelihood, but at the same time it is just kicking a ball. I was still quite nervous but lucky enough, I scored it, and Rocket didn’t get a hand to it.
Last year you made your first appearances as a Socceroo, and now you’re part of the 23- man squad for the World Cup qualifiers. What does it mean to you to be a Socceroo?
Again, another huge honour. Everybody growing up wants to play for their country no matter what sport, and I was no different. I made my (international) debut when I was 27; quite a ripe age but it was just one of those things that came around, and you sort of think that your time might have passed but I was lucky enough to get the call-up and to play in consecutive games, and now a handful of games for the Socceroos. It’s something I’m pretty proud of and I know it means a lot to everyone back home. At the moment, I’m just riding that wave and enjoying it as much as I can.
You’ve won the first qualifier 3-0 against Kuwait, with the next game against Nepal next month. Are you confident of winning the group? What’s the mood like in the camp?
Yeah, I mean it’s a very positive culture we’ve got at the Socceroos at the moment. I know Arnie’s very big on culture, and everything’s very positive, and everyone gets along really well. It’s a great bunch of boys, so it’s all been great, and obviously I think the 3-0 win in Kuwait…I feel that people don’t really realise how good a result that is; it’s definitely a tough place to visit in some tough conditions. So, to come out on top there and score goals was very important for us, and it sort of gives us that platform now to build on and keep going. But everyone’s feeling really good and I think when you go into that camp or the national team setup, it’s always a good time and it’s good to see all the boys. The culture’s very good and everyone’s positive.
You’ve reached the zenith of Australian football last season, winning the A-League grand final. With that in mind, you kick-off the 2019-20 season on the 11th of October away to Adelaide; do you think you can have a similar season to the previous one?
Well, they’re both definitely goals. Personally, you want to continue playing well, do well for Sydney FC, and play for the Socceroos if that’s to be. As a team, we definitely want to go all the way again and win trophies. I know Sydney FC’s a very ambitious club and we have been for years now, so we always want to win trophies, and that’s no different this year. Personally, I want to try and do as best I can for the team and then see where that takes us. But there’s plenty of room for improvement and a lot to do. It doesn’t come that easy in the A-League, it’s quite an even league and you never know what’s going to happen.
With the World Cup coming up in 2022, and you at 28 years old, as a defender, we could say that you’re getting into your prime. How do you see your future as a Socceroo and a Sydney FC player?
You want to play as long as you can. If you put it into perspective, football careers don’t go as long as every other career so you have to try and drag it out as long as you can. I’m only 28, which is a fair age, but I think I’ve got a number of years under my belt. I’m signed at Sydney for another three years so that gives me a little bit of stability and security. When it comes to Socceroos, I think I’ll just play as long as I can, get as many games. It’s an honour to put on that jersey, so if I can play another one or two games, that’d be great. If I can play until the World Cup, that’d be even better, and then to play in the World Cup would be unreal. But, I’m not holding my breath. I know things happen in football, and you have to ride the wave while you’re on it, and that’s what I’m trying to do now and enjoy it as much as I can.
You’ve played against some very big teams, with the likes of Manchester United and PSG being some of the notable ones. Who would you say has been the most difficult player to defend against?
I think just from purely sharpness and going straight past me, it would have to be Firmino. We played Liverpool a few years ago and in all fairness we had won the grand final, we had a bit of a celebration and hadn’t played for a number of weeks, and then had to play against Liverpool, one of the best teams in the world, so it was always going to be difficult. I remember when I came up against him, he floated out wide, but just how sharp he was, and thinking “far out! He’s another level”. I’ve played against PSG, against Chelsea, Tottenham, and Man United back in the day, so there’s a lot of good players that I could easily mention, but just one memory I had was definitely Firmino and how quick and sharp he was.
What’s your message to the younger players suffering a bad injury, and also to the players chasing their dreams of one wearing the green and gold jersey, representing their nation on the biggest stage?
Depending on age, I think, the most important thing when you start young is to just enjoy it. I know it can get quite serious when you get to a certain age, but you just have to enjoy it as long as you can, because if you enjoy it you’re always going to do well. Continue training and practicing, because that’s what you love, but I think if you’ve got injuries and little setbacks, keep at it. Get something else to distract your mind, so when you get to the football pitch or to rehab or to the gym, you’re making sure you’re doing 100% because that’s what you need to do. You don’t want to be coming every day, and it being a drag, especially with rehab, you need to distract your mind. When you get the chance to do what you have to do, you make sure that you’re ticking all the boxes, and in a good mind frame. Getting away from football and enjoying life is just as important as doing all the right things when it comes to football.
Make sure to keep a close eye on Rhyan Grant as the 2019-20 A-League season kicks off again on the 11th of October where Sydney will travel to Adelaide Oval to try and get their campaign off and running. They’ll hope that this year will be one similar to last year; one that ends with the lifting of the trophy and possibly taking the premier. Who knows? The A-League is a competitive league and it never ceases to surprise the fans. Either way, we’re hoping he stays fit throughout the season so we can see some more wonderful performances over the course of the next season for both club and country.
On a more general note, Perth Glory topped the table last year, winning their first premier title, but they’ll be hoping to get revenge on Sydney FC for last year’s grand final loss in the shootout.
In the league, can Sydney knock Perth off the premier perch? Does Melbourne swing back in to spoil the party? Or do we see another team come into to grab the goods? There’s an interesting season ahead, and we can’t wait for it to unfold.
Photographer: Jaime Castaneda