It was the phone call New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert had
been waiting for but, in reality, didn't really want to
Early this afternoon, Ryan Nelsen confirmed to Herbert what
the New Zealand football community feared, and announced he
would be retiring from all football at the end of the month
to take up the post as Toronto FC coach.
He will play his last game for Queens Park Rangers against
English champions Manchester City on January 29 and join the
MLS club for pre-season training on February 1.
It means he will miss the All Whites' final two World Cup
qualifiers against New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands in
It had been hoped he might turn out one last time against New
Caledonia and the most optimistic even wondered if he could
suit up for November's intercontinental playoff against the
fourth-best team from Central and North America for a place
at next year's World Cup.
Sadly, it won't happen and Nelsen will be stuck on 49
Appropriately, he played his last in his home town of
Christchurch but he won't get the sendoff he deserves. Wynton
Rufer is the best player this country has produced but Nelsen
is the most influential.
The All Whites wouldn't have qualified for the 2010 World Cup
without him - he was immense in the home-and-away playoff
against Bahrain - and most certainly wouldn't have left South
Africa undefeated in their three games.
"After a lot of consideration, I have decided to end my
playing career with the All Whites," Nelsen said.
"I believe I leave the team in a good space with quality
players able to carry on the recent success the All Whites
have enjoyed. Every time I pulled on a New Zealand shirt with
the fern on my chest, it was a very proud moment for me and I
will miss it.
"When you're not enjoying the playing side as much as other
aspects of football, you know it is time to move on. That
time is now and I want to commit all my energies into my
coaching career with Toronto FC."
The All Whites can still qualify for next year's World Cup in
Brazil without Nelsen, but it will be much more difficult.
Teammates play with considerably more confidence with the big
centre-back alongside them but there is at least good depth
in his position through Winston Reid, Tommy Smith, Ben
Sigmund and Andrew Durante, who is applying for a New Zealand
passport so he can play for his adopted country.
It's not yet clear whether the 35-year-old might be open to a
role with the All Whites in their likely playoff in November
- they need a point against New Caledonia in their next match
to win the Oceania qualifiers - as either an assistant coach
or mentor but his influence cannot be overstated.
The legend might be growing but he delivered an impassioned
speech on the eve of the second leg of the qualifier against
Bahrain in 2009 that left his teammates virtually willing to
run into a brick wall for him. The thing he has already
emphasised about what he wants to see from his team is
fighting for the jersey and never giving up.
"His contribution to New Zealand football has been
significant as an inspirational leader in every respect," NZF
chairman Frank Van Hattum said. "Without doubt he is one of
our all-time greats.
"The fairytale would have been for the All Whites to qualify
for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil with Ryan at the helm, but
this is the reality of professional football. These
opportunities don't come around too often. It's an exciting
chance for him to move into the next phase of his career, and
that opportunity is now."
Most would have hoped it would have been at least 10 months
later after another successful World Cup campaign.
- Michael Brown of APNZ