Nelsen's admirable career

SPORTS TALK BY JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:40 14/01/2013
Ryan Nelsen
REUTERS
Friends forever: Ryan Nelsen salutes the fans when turning out for Queens Park Rangers against his form club Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

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OPINION: Ryan Nelsen's imminent move to Toronto has become a bit messy, but that shouldn't cloud the way we view one of our rare football greats.

Nelsen, 35, is to be Toronto FC's next head coach. When the announcement was made it was unclear exactly when that might be.

What about his playing commitments with Queens Park Rangers and New Zealand?

The waters were further muddied by stinging criticism from Toronto football fans, appalled the club would hire as head coach a person without coaching or managerial experience.

I have a feeling it will work out well for Nelsen. It always has.

Everything he does has the stamp of quality. He's a mature and organised bloke who knows how to get the most out of himself and his team-mates.

I've crossed paths with Nelsen only infrequently, such as at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and during the All Whites' most recent World Cup campaign.

He's an impressive person, not given to flashy statements, but with obvious pride - in his own performance and in representing his various teams.

What has always stood out is his intelligence, not surprising in someone who gained a political science degree at Stanford University.

He was just a lad from Christchurch when he was signed by DC in 2001 to play Major League Soccer. Within a short time he was captaining the Washington side.

It was the same when he was lured to England by Blackburn Rovers in 2005. Again he was soon captaining the team.

After 172 games for Blackburn, he's had short premier division stints with Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers.

That's adds up to a pretty impressive CV.

As a defender, Nelsen hasn't the glamour of a striker, unlike our other great footballer, Wynton Rufer. But he's just as valuable.

Who could forget how he marshalled the All Whites' defence during that memorable evening at Wellington Stadium in 2009, when they beat Bahrain to seal a place at the 2010 World Cup finals? That was real leadership.

In the finals, in South Africa, the lightly-regarded All Whites were unbeaten in three matches against top-level opposition. Who'd have believed that beforehand?

Nelsen was inspiring. ESPN even named him in its World Cup tournament team.

Not surprisingly, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert wanted Nelsen on board as long as possible, even suggesting he could lead New Zealand at the next World Cup, in Brazil in 2014.

He'll be nearly 37 then. Even for a defender that's long in the tooth to be playing World Cup football.

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There have been notable retirements lately. Australian cricketer Ricky Ponting hung on and hung on, one failure after another, until it was suggested he either retire immediately, or be dropped.

By contrast his team-mate, Michael Hussey, got out at the top of his game.

Sachin Tendulkar apparently intends playing until he's 50, and most Indian cricket fans want that too - never mind he's a shadow of the player he once was.

Nelsen is moving from playing to coaching at just the right time, before his advancing age and his body let him down.

To judge by his career so far, he'll make a good fist of coaching at Toronto, despite the beleaguered club fans' concerns.

Friends forever: Ryan Nelsen salutes the fans when turning out for Queens Park Rangers against his form club Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Photo: REUTERS

- The Wellingtonian

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