Ryan Nelsen

INFLUENTIAL: Ryan Nelsen's team-mates say their captain was the reason the All Whites beat Bahrain in last year's World Cup qualifying game.
KEVIN STENT/Sunday Star Times
INFLUENTIAL: Ryan Nelsen's team-mates say their captain was the reason the All Whites beat Bahrain in last year's World Cup qualifying game.

Age: 32
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Position: Defender
All Whites debut: v Poland, June 19, 1999
Caps: 41
Goals: 9
Other national teams: NZ U-23  (2008 Olympics, over-age player)
Place of birth: Christchurch
Former clubs: DC United

Ryan Nelsen is New Zealand's most successful player since Oceania player of the century Wynton Rufer and the All Whites' best skipper since 1982 World Cup squad captain Steve Sumner.

The Christchurch-born centreback has played more than 150 matches in the English Premier League and English and European cup competitions and was rated by former Blackburn manager Mark Hughes as "the best free transfer signing in Premier League history".

Nelsen made his All Whites debut in 1999 just before the Confederations Cup finals in Mexico while he was attending Greensboro University in North Carolina.

He became a big star in the United States' MLS (Major League Soccer) competition, captaining Washington club DC United to the MLS Cup title in 2004 before signing for Blackburn in January 2005.

Within weeks Hughes installed him as Rovers' captain and he has had the armband ever since for the East Lancashire club.

Strong in the air and composed on the ball, Nelsen has held his own against some of the world's top strikers in the Premier League and has chimed in with four goals for Blackburn.

Nelsen represented New Zealand at the 1999 and 2003 Confederations Cup finals but was injured for the 2009 edition in South Africa. He captained the All Whites at the ill-fated Oceania Nations Cup tournament in Adelaide in 2004 and later spoke out in support of coach Mick Waitt, who stood down after the tournament to make way for Ricki Herbert.

Injuries and club commitments at Blackburn curtailed Nelsen's All Whites career for four years until his return in 2008 to lead the side in World Cup qualifying matches against New Caledonia.

He missed the 2009 Confederations Cup finals with injury and was sorely missed as the All Whites crashed to a 5-0 loss against Spain and a 2-0 defeat to South Africa.

But Nelsen was extremely influential, on and off the field, in last year's playoff against fifth-ranked Asian nation Bahrain. Some teammates attest he was the difference between the two teams and pundits now rate him as arguably the best leader in New Zealand sport.

Career highlights: 

2010: Injury ruled Nelsen out of New Zealand's friendly against Mexico.

2009: Scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Thailand 'A' in Bangkok. Injury ruled Nelsen out of New Zealand's Confederations Cup campaign but he came back to captain the side in the playoff matches against Bahrain.

2008: Nelsen was selected as one of three over-age players for the Beijing Olympics. Captained the side in an opening 1-1 draw with China and a 0-5 loss to Brazil but had to return to England for Blackburn's opening game of the Premiership season. Made his first appearance for the All Whites in four years when returning to captain New Zealand in two World Cup qualifiers against New Caledonia.

2007: Became Blackburn's regular captain and helped the side reach their second FA Cup final in three seasons.

2006: Offered a new three-year-deal by Blackburn Rovers.

2005: Signed an initial 18-month deal with Blackburn Rovers after twice being nominated for the MLS All-Star team following a career with (Washington) DC United.