Anyone who plays a team sport knows they have to take their chance when it comes.
That’s especially the case in games with highly specialist positions. There are countless goalkeepers in soccer and wicketkeepers in cricket who may have been just as good as their more famous teammates had they been given the opportunity – or not fluffed it when it came.
Melbourne City goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis admits to having plenty of butterflies in October when he made his first start for the club he joined earlier this year as back-up for Thomas Sorensen, the established Premier League and Danish international goalkeeper.
Bouzanis, now 26, got his chance through one of those serendipitous circumstances that can have such a huge impact on a player’s career.
Sorensen was sent off in the opening game of the season, City’s 1-0 win in Wellington, so Bouzanis took the jersey and the gloves for the round-two match, which just happened to be one of the biggest of the year: the first derby of the season against Melbourne Victory, when Tim Cahill, City’s marquee man, would make his A-League debut for the club.
For a goalkeeper whose career started to so promisingly – Liverpool signed him from Sydney Olympic as a 16-year-old, with then manager Rafa Benitez proclaiming him the best in the world for his age – Bouzanis’ trajectory had been decidedly bumpy.
He never made it at Liverpool, and then travelled around in the English lower leagues before returning home, signing for Western Sydney.
But even then he wasn’t a regular, so when the chance came to move south to City, he took it.
And while he had to play second fiddle to a man 15 years his senior last season, he has taken the unexpected chance with both hands and replaced Sorensen as coach John van ‘t Schip’s No.1.
There will be the inevitable nerves that exist for every player before a big game, but the butterflies as he lines up against Victory at AAMI Park this Saturday night will not be fluttering quite so fiercely as in round two at Etihad Stadium.
“I was a bit nervous that night when I started, but it was great to get the opportunity. I had worked hard and had to hope that my chance would come and then I had to take it.”
Was he surprised that he displaced Sorensen straight away? Most pundits expected van ‘t Schip to put his experienced shot-stopper back between the posts as soon as he served his one-game ban.
“Yes and no, but at this club the principle is that if you work hard and do well, you get rewarded for your efforts. There was a lot riding on it for me that night [against Victory], but I knew I had done the work and that I was physically prepared and mentally right. It was about focusing on my own game.”
One of Bouzanis’ major assets is his ability to play the ball out from the back with his feet; these days, with so many teams playing a pressing game, it is important for a goalkeeper to play almost as a sweeper in the last line of defence, using his hands only when absolutely necessary.
That ability, he says, came from his days as a junior with Sydney Olympic.
“I was an outfield player – midfield, anywhere really – until I was 15 and then went into the nets. Having done that gives me a bit more confidence, as I had the ball at my feet more when I was younger. I also think it helps us to play through other teams who might attack us with a high press.”
The move to Anfield looked like a great opportunity – “it all happened so quickly, an agent saw me, they brought me there and then I was suddenly in England as a young teenager” – but it didn’t work out the way he hoped.
Having experienced the rough and tumble of England’s lower leagues at clubs such as Accrington Stanley, Carlisle United and Oldham Athletic, Bouzanis could have been forgiven for thinking the hopes he was given at the start were some kind of cruel joke fate was playing.
But that’s not how he sees things as he matures and gains more experience.
“It did put a lot of pressure on me when Rafa Benitez said what he did, but it was also humbling when a manager of his status makes those kind of comments.
“What happened after Liverpool was character-building, but I believe everything happens for a reason and everyone gets their time.”
Bouzanis joined his teammates earlier this week, as part of the pre-Christmas City volunteer week, on a visit to the Starlight Express Room at the Monash Children’s Hospital.
That, he says, reinforced his feeling that he has been lucky, and needs to be grateful for the second chance he is now getting.
“It was a real eye-opener, but special for us because every time we come down and share moments with the kids really means a lot. To share the Christmas spirit with them and to be able to hand out a gift or a smile really means a lot to everybody at the football club.”
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