Mitchell Langerak interview■Part ３■
Mitchell Langerak names Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas as his biggest idols and he has aimed to become a top goalkeeper just like the Italian and Spanish veterans.
But his home country, Australia, has also produced many great keepers who have thrived in the top European leagues, such as Mark Bosnich and Mark Schwarzer, while Mathew Ryan currently defends the goalmouth of Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League.
It is fair to say, at least in Asia and the Pacific region, that Australia is a goalkeepers' nation. With that in mind, I asked him the same question I posed Krzysztof Kaminski in a previous interview in this series ─ why do you think your home country is able to develop such good goalkeepers?
"I don't know the exact reasons," Langerak replied. "Maybe because in Australia, we play many sorts of sports using our hands from a young age, and learn catching, throwing, dive around, making saves, and so on. Also, there are a lot of ball sports such as rugby, Australian football, and cricket, and I think all these sports teach you good hand/arm coordination. I myself have played many kinds of sports in addition to those I mentioned, like swimming and tennis.
"But I'm not too sure about it. I think each professional goalkeeper has a different story about how they became who they are. Obviously, there is a lot of hard work, as I have done as well."
Langerak was born in a sports-oriented family that urged him to play many kinds of sports. With natural athleticism and constant hard work, he grew into a professional keeper, moving to Germany where he was trained by the finest coaches including Jurgen Klopp, and had the chance to play in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. For the custodian with first-hand knowledge of the highest level, the J.League is also a quality stage.
"The standard of the league is very high," Langerak said in his typically optimistic tone. "For goalkeepers like me, it's always a big challenge, really. The players are truly skillful, pacy, smart, tactically intelligent overall, and their shots are so powerful and precise. So, even for foreign players with top-level experience, it's not a walk in the park. Some top players like (Andres) Iniesta and (David) Villa came to play in the league and they raised the standard."
While Langerak faced many great attackers such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in Germany, he acknowledges there are also many tough strikers in the J.League, including Fernando Torres (now retired), Douglas, and Leandro Damiao. As a foreign player himself, Langerak would like to see more arrive in the near future and has some advice for possible newcomers from overseas.
"If you have the chance, you should definitely come to Japan," he said clearly. "It's obviously intimidating to move to a new country in a new continent. But once you are here, it's a really fantastic place to live and play football. You will get looked after, will get treated very nicely, and you won't have to worry about anything.
"The majority of the stadiums are big, new, clean, and have many spectators. As a player, you want to play in full stadiums, and you can enjoy that often in the J.League. Apart from Germany, where most matches are full houses, there are not many other places in the world where the stadiums are full week in week out, but you get that in Japan. I think this is one of the coolest things about playing in the J.League. It's the opposite in Australia, unfortunately ─ we have big and nice stadiums, but not many people come to watch. So I'm very happy to play in Japan."
text by Yoichi Igawa