McGowan: Defenders can't afford to make mistakes

The Socceroo, who will step into the void left by his injured colleague against Oranje this week, told Goal Australia all about the pressure that comes with playing at the back
Feature interview
By Iain Strachan

As he prepares for the biggest game of his career against the Netherlands, Australia's Ryan McGowan says defensive players must learn to live with far greater performance pressure than their attacking colleagues.

McGowan, 24, is set to replace the injured Ivan Franjic at right-back in the World Cup game against Louis van Gaal's in-form side on Wednesday (2am Thursday AEST).

The Shandong Luneng man, usually deployed at centre-back, found the going tough out wide in a friendly against Brazil last September, when he was given a torrid time by Neymar in a crushing 6-0 loss.

The likes of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, fresh from orchestrating a remarkable 5-1 win over world and European champions Spain, will pose a similar threat in Porto Alegre this week.

Unlike Australia's loss to the Selecao last year, the match at Estadio Beira-Rio is a competitive fixture. And with vital World Cup points up for grabs, the stakes could not be higher.

While it won't make his task any easier, McGowan at least has a firm grasp of the expectation levels weighing down on him, with the former Heart of Midlothian man opening up to Goal Australia about the level of scrutiny that comes with playing at the back.

"Defenders, a little bit like goalkeepers, are different to the rest of the pitch," he said.

"I might just be saying that because I'm a defender. Strikers are sometimes ... a Tuesday night, in Tranmere, doesn't fancy it, doesn't rate it. But everyone just seems to accept that. 'Oh, he's a striker', so he gets away with it. 'He's a winger, so he's hot and cold'.

"Defenders ... if you're a centre-back and you go to Tranmere away and you don't perform, you don't play next week."

McGowan believes that harsh reality helps to toughen up defensive players from an early stage in their career.

Or, keeping in mind the old adage about goalkeepers being a breed apart, it merely serves to confirm that some stoppers simply have one or two screws loose.

"So I think we're sometimes mentally stronger," he said.

"Sometimes you have to be a bit crazy to want play in defence. Anywhere in the world you go centre-backs, left-backs, right-backs have the same criteria of what you're expected to do.

"You're expected to win your headers, win tackles. And then it's a bonus, 'he can play out, he can dribble with it, he's good at set pieces'. But all over the world, the best defenders all have the same attributes."

If McGowan does manage the impossible and help to keep the Netherlands quiet on Wednesday, he could well join some of his Australia team-mates in the shop window for post-World Cup transfers.

With six months remaining on his deal in the Chinese Super League, the Socceroo - whose brother Dylan McGowan signed for Adelaide United this month - made no secret of his preference for a return to football's heartland.

"I thoroughly enjoyed Scotland," he said.

"I loved my time there and once my time finishes in China I definitely want to head back to the UK."