The training ‘deal’ that fuels Langerak’s record-breaking success

Goalkeeping keeps Mitch Langerak up at night.

And it is one of the secrets behind his record-breaking success in Japan.

“Sometimes after a game, I’ll sit in bed and be so excited and want the next game to arrive to work on what I didn’t do that well – this sort of mentality is paying dividends,” he tells KEEPUP.

“I think it’s something I’ve refined over the last couple of years.

“I’m constantly trying to get better … I look at, if I make a mistake, or not necessarily a mistake, It could be something simple like I made a save and did not push a ball quite to safety – that keeps me up and makes me think: how can I avoid that, not allow that half chance to occur another time.

“When I train next, after training, I’ll say (to a younger player after training) I’m going to give you 10 shots exactly like that situation (from the previous game) … and then I’ll give you 10 wherever you want.

“It is fun for them, fun for me.

“We have a deal with one of the younger strikers (for example): 10 penalties – five, I want you to shoot where I want you to, then five wherever you want to.”

Last season, the former Melbourne Victory goalkeeper eclipsed his own record, set in 2020, for most shutouts in one campaign, with 18, to add to another milestone, a record nine consecutive clean sheets.

After Langerak opened the 2022 J1 League season with yet another clean sheet, in a campaign-opening 2-0 win over Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe, KEEPUP asked the former Socceroos stopper the most obvious question: How does Nagoya Grampus keep so many clean sheets?

That the answer to such a cliché query was anything but speaks volume to the enthusiasm, passion, diligence and care the former Victory keeper has put into his craft.

It is a focus that has made him one of the continent’s most formidable custodians.

“As a goalkeeper, I have never judged myself on clean sheets – it’s a byproduct of a good performance,” he explains. “What I am for is the best performance I can give.

“I analyse myself objectively, in the sense that I look at the whole performance up until the 95th minute.

“It could be a particular piece of distribution, or a ball that’s come in and I haven’t dealt with it, or I’ve punched a ball into a dangerous area. I look at that and try and fix it, and over the last couple of years that’s helped my performance.”

From there, attention grabbing records flowed.

It was a nice common theme for Langerak and his two centre-backs to bond over – 31 clean sheets in total all season. He confessed that the 2020 record crept up on them all – he only found out when a translator told him after he’d made the mark. But, he added, they were “well aware” of the mark last term and as the games ticked by “we were obviously going for it”.

While that included no “unnecessary risk taking”, that’s not saying that Italian boss Massimo Ficcadenti was sending them out to park the bus, either.

“We weren’t defensive, we were well organised and knew our roles and what to do in certain situations,” Langerak explained.

The tight Nagoya Grampus unit.

“We knew what each other were going to do in any area of the game. It was a little bit scripted, in the sense, when the ball was in the defensive third, we knew where we would pass, what positions to take up depending on where the ball was and they would not stray from those roles.”  

He continued: “The last two years we had an Italian coach, very disciplined. We had players who were very intelligent and very experienced. We had a good mentality amongst us, especially our defenders and midfielders; we were very much on the same page.

“Our attacking players were consistently tracking back and putting in big shifts.”

Indeed, the hallmarks look promising under new manager Kenta Hasegawa.

“To start the season with a clean sheet against Kobe, with their internationals and special players all over the pitch, to keep them quiet again was fantastic. To get off to a great start in front of our home fans, in our stadium, was great; a bit of a platform is fantastic.”

Fortress Nagoya helped them to fifth last term, but with Kawasaki Frontale miles ahead even of Kevin Muscat’s Yokohama F.Marinos by season’s end, there was some distance to the top of the table.

Much like with performances breeding clean sheets, so too could they turn 2022 into a memorable one.

“We’ve been there or there about and done really well … our goal is to go as far as we can and compete until the last match day, that’s the goal, that’s something we’re all thinking about.

“We’ve got a huge possibility to do something special.”

Kevin Muscat (R) with Langerak in 2008.

Along the way, he will come across an old team-mate from the early stages of his career, when he was a prodigious goalkeeping talent at Victory, where his form and talent earned him a move to Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund.

“I am really happy for Muscy,” he said of his former A-Leagues skipper.

“He is such a good guy; I consider him a friend. It is nice to see him having success.”

Kevin Muscat in Yokohama.

Langerak was in Japan when the country was swept up by Ange Postecoglou fever. He is seeing the similar wheels in motion in Scotland, but is also keen to point out the way Muscat has already put his own stamp on the F.Marinos team he inherited from the J1 League title winner.

“With Yokohama in the year they won it, they were exceptional. Dominant. It was night and day with Ange’s style,” Langerak said.

“I played under Ange with the Socceroos, so it was almost a bit funny – I would watch their games, or I’d be playing against them and I could see what they were doing, or trying to do, but it is really hard to stop.

“It was no secret, but to stop it was very difficult!

“With Muscy taking over, it has been really cool to see because there have been some subtle changes to the way they are playing. I can notice because I played with Muscy, and I see how Yokohama play. It is cool for Muscy to have his own stamp on Yokohama already – they will be ultra-competitive. They beat Kawasaki, which is great for them.”

And so too is life for Langerak and his young family, settled in Japan.

“Honestly, it is really cool. I love it. It is something special. When I’m looking back in the future, it will be cool to know my kids were born in Japan, and got to experience watching their dad play in fantastic stadiums,” he continued.

“Even small things; I love taking my son to his little international school with the other Japanese kids, and then drive off to training. I love that. Lifestyle wise, for my wife, we love it

“I have been overseas now for 12 years, you become mentally strong.

“(There were situations in the) Socceroos where there would be so much conversation flying, but it is so different, because when you’re overseas for so long you might only understand a few guys! Or you’re 21 at Borussia Dortmund and you literally don’t know who to turn to, who speaks English, who can help you out. That’s what I’ve developed and am so comfortable with. I go to Spain, walk around in a change room introducing yourself to 30 people, and no one can understand you – that builds resilience to do things like that. Same in Japan.”

Melbourne Victory’s goalkeeper Mitch Langerak in his A-Leagues days in 2010.

But the time zone does allow for one home comfort: the A-Leagues. Langerak is still an unabashed fan, and advocate.

“I watch nearly all games, whenever I can,” Langerak said.

“The time zone is perfect. I love nothing more than coming home from training and watching. I follow the Victory very closely.

“A club close to my heart.

“Honestly, I’m across all the games. I’m watching everything.

“It is really cool to see; the quality is so high and it is exciting.”