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Opinion: BOTN's Zee Ko looks at one of Melbourne Victory's young goalkeepers ..

Victory Spotlight: Rani Dowisha

Rani Dowisha feints left, lunges right to tap the goalpost, before diving low to his left to block a shot. A heart's beat later, another ball comes whistling towards him and the 19 year old scrambles to his knees to execute yet another desperate parry.

Dowisha barely has time to catch a breath before he's ordered up again. The stern goalkeeping coach stands on the penalty spot just metres away, ready to fire off another point-blank volley at his young charge. The Melbourne Victory youth keeper steels himself, then executes the same flawless manoeuvre from start to finish.

"Again!"

It's past 5 in the afternoon at the Darebin International Sports Complex (DISC) in Thornbury and the Victory youth team are being put through their paces on one of the pristine football pitches that dot the landscape. As Rani Dowisha practices his shot stopping skills under the watchful gaze of the goalkeeping coach, the outfielders are busy undergoing passing drills not too far away.

The shrills whistle blasts and shouts of encouragement mark it as yet another training session for what is effectively Melbourne Victory's reserve team. Dowisha finally takes a break on the sidelines as his understudy steps in.

"I started a bit late actually, when I was 13 or 14," he explains by way of an introduction, "I was having a kick in the park with my dad and he asked me to go in goals." "I was a bit reluctant at first, I just wanted to have some fun and kick some goals but I just started jumping around and diving around and I enjoyed it. "Next thing I knew, I signed up the next season down in Doncaster Rovers and I haven't looked back since."

The lanky goalkeeper has certainly come a long way since then, having earned himself a senior contract with Victory after spells at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) and Richmond SC. He is highly regarded by the club and youth team coach Darren Davies, himself a recent appointment this season, was quick to praise Dowisha's work ethic.

"Rani's been unbelievable since I got here, he's a character within himself [and] within the squad," Davies gushed. "I can't speak enough of Rani and his positive effect on the training environment." "As a goalkeeper, I think he's got a very bright feature. He's fantastic at playing out of the back, [which is how] we want our keepers to be in the future."

Davies was also at pains to point out Dowisha's leadership role in what has been a very young Victory youth side.

"It's quite ironic actually that we're talking about Rani being one of our older players, he's only born in 1992 and that's probably one of the youngest players [as compared to other youth squads]. But that's the way it is, and that's the way we want it because that's the pathway to get players into the first team," he said.

"But if we're on about Rani being one of the senior players, yes he's a leader. He's a leader and his character is superb and I can't say enough good things about him." Back on the training ground, the young lad from Doncaster is pulling off his gloves and preparing to head for the dressing rooms.

"I was actually born in Damascus, in the capital of Syria. My parents were born in Iraq and they moved because of the Gulf War," Dowisha explains. "I only lived there [Syria] for two months though, we moved to Australia and I've pretty much grown up here my whole life. "Dad played soccer for about half a season, but nothing really serious. My brothers play basketball, and I did as well as a young kid growing up. I'm the only one in the family that's ever played soccer [professionally], it was just something different I wanted to try."

You can tell that family means a lot to Dowisha, and he agrees wholeheartedly that they've played a part in his progression so far. "Yeah they love it. My older brother and my younger brother love watching me play. And my dad as well, he's really supportive. They all enjoy cheering me on, they're all fans even if they've never played themselves."

"I can remember my first match, I think I was an Under-14 playing for the Under-16s and we lost 2-0 to Bulleen. "But I remember having a pretty good game, I got a lot of support from the club and the coaches and stuff and I enjoyed it so I just kept going on from there."

As for role models growing up, Dowisha unsurprisingly comes up with some familiar names. "When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of YouTube clips of Peter Schmeichel. His athleticism and agility for someone his size was just unbelievable, and the way he was so commanding as well. He's someone I really look up to," he recalls. "I was also working under Peter Zo´s [at Richmond], who's now the goalkeeping coach at Melbourne Heart. He'd just come back from his 10-year spell in Holland, and was just unbelievable to work with. "He showed me what being a professional meant, and he helped me so much and to this day still [does so]."

We're now deep inside the dressing rooms at DISC and Dowisha pauses to exchange some friendly banter with some of the other players.

"Yeah some of these younger boys are starting their own little group, which is good when they're coming through," he explains. "With the older boys, I grew up with Jimmy Jeggo, Petar Franjic, Dado (Lokvancic) ů all these kids I've known since I was 14 or 15." "We spent pretty much the whole day together for the last four, five years, whether it was Victory or the VIS. So we get along pretty well and it's not just them, it's the whole club. Whoever comes in is welcome and we try and make them feel part of the club."

Dowisha admits that it hasn't been easy lately though, with the club rooted at the bottom of the National Youth League (NYL) standings. Victory have so far failed to register a single point, and the last two outings have seen Dowisha let in an incredible 11 goals.

"Darren (Davies) has been great, his philosophy of football, the playing out of the back and the movement, is something I haven't been exposed to before. As he says, it's a process, not a short-term one, but rather a long-term process.

"Obviously the score-lines haven't been what we've wanted but it's such a young squad, it's hardů just the physicality of the other teams make it tough but you know the boys are learning. "For me, I get a good workout to be honest, at the end of the day I do what I can, and if I'm putting in 100% every day, I've got no complaints."

You start to get the impression that Dowisha has both feet firmly planted on the ground despite his steady rise through the ranks so far. He freely admits that he's happy to stay in football and at Victory as long as he's enjoying his football, and that he'll take his chances where he can find them.

"Football's a funny game you know, you might get a chance one week, and out of the squad the next, but you've got to make sure you take your chance. "It's worked out well so far, and it's lucky Dad asked me to jump in goals [all those years ago] or else I wouldn't be here," he laughs.

By Zee Ko 21 November, 2011



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