Ryan Nelsen introduced as Toronto FC coach
One week he's playing in the English Premier League, the next Ryan Nelsen will be coaching Toronto FC in America's Major League Soccer.
Exactly what week that change takes place is uncertain, but Nelsen today confirmed the impending end of his playing career and the start of a managerial one when he was unveiled as Toronto's new head coach at a press conference in Toronto.
In what is unquestionably a hammer blow to the All Whites' chances of qualifying for and performing at next year's World Cup finals, the 35-year-old will quit football as a player when he signs off from his contract at English Premier League club Queens Park Rangers.
It's a messy situation - he is contracted to the club until the end of June but will talk to them on his return to England in an attempt to negotiate an earlier release. If that isn't possible - and QPR are currently bottom of the league, fighting for their existence and in dire need of an in-form Nelsen - the All Whites captain will not only miss the MLS draft and combine (player showcase), but also the first four months of the season, which starts on March 2.
Toronto fans are already divided on this issue; a rookie coach with no experience who could miss so much time at the start of the season, but Nelsen insists there won't be problems if his arrival in Toronto is delayed.
His new assistant coach, Fran O'Leary, will take the team, which finished bottom of the pile last season, in the interim. Nelsen has known the Irishman, who has more than 20 years coaching experience in the US college system and has just completed his Uefa Pro coaching licence, for 10 years
"I have 100 per cent confidence in Fran," Nelsen said. "We've known each other for more than 10 years. I know that when I'm not there, Fran will lead the team well.
"In all honesty everything will be prepared, from day one till the time I come in.
"I'm under contract with QPR and I've got to respect that. This has been a bit of a whirlwind so there are some details that we have to go through.
"They're in a difficult situation and I have to respect that. We'll talk when I get back."
Most of the questioning at the press conference was around Toronto and QPR, though Nelsen admitted he had not yet talked to New Zealand Football about his move.
There was no specific mention of an end to his international playing career, but it would almost be impossible for him to be Toronto's head coach and continue to play for New Zealand for another 12 months.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to the coach (Ricki Herbert) or the chairman (Frank van Hattum) of NZF," he said. "I'll be talking to them very soon."
He said he "just knew" now was the time to hang up his boots.
"I think my knees have been telling me that for two or three years now," he laughed.
"You just know. Even for the last couple of years I haven't really been thinking like a player. But I have loyalties to QPR, it's just a horrible situation, and I don't want to leave them in this situation... but this opportunity, at a fantastic club in a fantastic city, was something I couldn't turn down."
Nelsen brushed off his lack of coaching experience, and said it was hugely advantageous to have been part of a successful DC United team from 2001-05, which followed a US collegiate career. He knew the league and what it took to succeed.
"I suppose in a way I've been coaching and thinking about the game in that capacity since I was 21. I've been fortunate enough to have coaches who have been very influential so I've been learning and taking in from all these conversations. I've always had a curiosity for the game and wanted to further my knowledge of the game."
He mentioned the likes of former All Whites and Stanford University mentor Bobby Clark, Mark Hughes (Blackburn Rovers and QPR), Harry Redknapp (Tottenham and QPR) and Paul Ince (Blackburn) as coaches he'd learnt the most from during his playing career.
"What the fans can know, is that my teams will be very hard, they'll be competitive, and they'll never give up and fall over for any team. That's the base we'll go from.
"Looking from afar, I've admired the way the club was handled off the field, the passion the fans had, it was a shining light in a way as to how a club should be run and supported. Now to be part of it, it's a privilege and extremely exciting.
"It's a new era for me as well and it's a challenge I'm excited about and I can't wait for."
- © Fairfax NZ News