Maybe it's selfishness, but surely Ryan Nelsen can play on
for at least another 10 months. His country needs him.
The 35-year-old is set to quit English Premier League outfit
Queens Park Rangers and be unveiled as Toronto FC coach
tomorrow morning (NZT). Nelsen was always destined to be a
coach, if he wanted to be one, but appears likely to call
time on his remarkable playing career.
It would be incredibly bad timing for the All Whites. They
should win the Oceania group in March before taking on the
fourth-best side from Central and North America in November
for a place at next year's World Cup.
The All Whites could still navigate their way to consecutive
World Cups without the defender but that task would be
infinitely more difficult.
Nelsen is the best player this country has produced since
Oceania player of the 20th Century Wynton Rufer and,
arguably, the most influential New Zealand player of all
time. People notice when he plays and when he speaks.
He was immense in the two playoffs games against Bahrain to
get the All Whites to the 2010 World Cup and even more
brilliant in South Africa when New Zealand went undefeated -
he played the last one against Paraguay with a troublesome
Suggestions Nelsen effectively coached the All Whites in
South Africa might be a little uncharitable to Ricki Herbert
but the influence he has is unquestionable.
For people on the outside, the timing of his move into
coaching doesn't seem right so close to another World Cup
playoff. Surely someone of his standing would receive
multiple offers to coach when he decided to retire.
But that is a big assumption. Players and coaches often talk
about a move having to be right for them and their family and
a move to Toronto might be the most attractive in Nelsen's
He will be reunited with president Kevin Payne, who was in
charge at DC United during Nelsen's spell there from 2001 to
2005 and when they won the MLS title in 2004, and the backing
of the Big Boss is one of the most important things for any
manager. A move to Toronto would also be closer to his wife's
family, who are in the US.
Maybe Nelsen just doesn't have the spark any more.
He is still playing good football and only recently had
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, the Spanish World Cup winner
and a player bought from Liverpool for £50 million in his
But sitting on the bottom of the Premier League table is
draining and he might not be able to face another 12 months
playing. He's had issues with injury throughout his career
and maintaining fitness at 35 can be a struggle.
It would also be easy to suggest Nelsen doesn't want to
tarnish the legacy he established at the 2010 World Cup by
going to another - assuming New Zealand even qualify - but he
doesn't come across as the type of individual who would care
too much about that.
Instead, he might think the All Whites are well stocked at
centre-back, with Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Ben Sigmund,
and Phoenix captain Andrew Durante will also qualify for New
Zealand in March. But none have the experience, ability and
aura of Nelsen, yet.
If Nelsen has played the last of his 49 internationals for
the All Whites, it happened in his home town Christchurch in
the 3-0 defeat of Tahiti. In some respects, it was an
appropriate way to go out.
In so many more, however, it's not the way it was supposed to