Football: Durante looms as Nelsen replacement

Andrew Durante
Andrew Durante
He might not possess the aura and ability of Ryan Nelsen, at least yet, but Australia-born Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante is looming as a possible replacement for one of this country's greatest footballers.

Nelsen is widely expected to be unveiled as Toronto FC coach tomorrow morning (NZT) when it's also expected he will retire from playing. It's possible the 35-year-old could assume a role as a player-coach but it's highly unlikely for someone who has no coaching experience and will want to commit to his new job fulltime.

Durante qualifies to play for New Zealand in March after nearly five years in this country and has started proceedings to become a New Zealand citizen. To date, the 30-year-old has consistently played a straight bat to enquiries around his interest in playing for the All Whites but New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred de Jong said he expected Durante to switch allegiance.

Durante has been called into Australian squads previously but is uncapped and, given his name was missing from a recent squad that contained 16 A-League players, it looks unlikely he will ever play for the Socceroos.

"The ball is in his court but I have spoken to him about it," de Jong said. "He's looking into becoming a citizen. At the point that comes through, then he has to present papers to New Zealand Football and we would then take them to Fifa. He's going through that process so, by that, I expect he will change over."

Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. He would also allow All Whites coach Ricki Herbert to retain his favoured 3-4-3 formation and could play alongside Winston Reid and Tommy Smith at the back.

He would, however, be filling extremely big boots.

When Nelsen was last in New Zealand in October to play for the All Whites, Herbert described him and Winston Reid as their Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

Nelsen wanted to be Carter - "I think I'm a lot better looking than Richie," he quipped - but the point was that the public quiver whenever their two best All Blacks are absent.

Nelsen, however, is much more important than that. The All Blacks can still win a World Cup without Carter but it's questionable whether the All Whites can qualify for consecutive World Cups without Nelsen.

"He's one of our all-time greats," de Jong said. "What he did at the 2010 World Cup and to get the side there was immense."

NZF hadn't heard from Nelsen about his plans and, like everyone else, were waiting with interest until his official unveiling at Toronto. De Jong said they remained "hopeful" he might play on with key World Cup qualifiers looming but Nelsen might not be willing to play for country if he wasn't playing at club level.

The All Whites are in the box seat to progress to an intercontinental playoff against the fourth-best side from Central and North America in November but firstly have to get something from their games against New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands in March.

De Jong said an alternative was to recruit Nelsen in an assistant coaching or advisory role for the November playoff but that decision rested with Herbert.

"At the moment, we are hopeful he can still play [for the All Whites], especially the March games," de Jong said. "If not, then he will leave a big hole. We have good cover in that position but any New Zealand team with Ryan in it is a better team."