Coach Nelsen has the goods, says ex-mentor
TONY SMITH AND FRED WOODCOCK
Ryan Nelsen's early coaching mentor believes the All White captain's lack of coaching experience won't hold him back but an All White great believes it was ''a ballsy call'' by Toronto FC to appoint a rookie head coach.
Nelsen's appointment was confirmed by the Major League Soccer club at a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday morning. He is set to return to London to play for Queen's Park Rangers this weekend and negotiate an early release from his contract.
The 35-year-old has not formally coached a team before although he played an influential role in leading the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Former All Whites' coach Bobby Clark, who coached Nelsen at Stanford University in 1999 and 2000, said yesterday his former charge was a born leader and had been ''coaching on the field'' for most of his career.
Steve Sumner, who captained the All Whites to the 1982 World Cup finals, said yesterday Nelsen would go down in history as ''one of the two best players produced in New Zealand'', alongside Oceania player of the century Wynton Rufer.
He said his fellow Cantabrian had ''lived dream" as a footballer in the English Premier League and had commanded a great deal of respect in the football world.
Sumner said he would never forget watching Blackburn Rovers play Manchester City with Nelsen and his former centreback partner Andy Todd dominating a City strikeforce featuring former Liverpool and England legend Robbie Fowler.
While Sumner totally respects his countryman's playing pedigree and leadership skills, he said was still a ''ballsy call'' by Toronto FC to appoint a head coach without formal qualifications or experience.
There was ''a big difference from leading the charge'' on the pitch as a player and captain to ''getting the best out of people as a football manager,'' Sumner said.
Managers had to be able to ''motivate players and actually correct faults'' and to turn things around at halftime if things were going wrong.
Sumner said some top players, like former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, had struggled as managers as sometimes ''expectations of ordinary players would have far exceeded their ability''.
But he said Nelsen was a man of ''great honour and good character'' and he would be ''very interested to see how goes'' as a coach.
''You definitely want new blood coming through on the national front. He may become a good coach and be suitable for a New Zealand post in the future.''
Clark, now head coach at prestigious Notre Dame University in Indiana, was confident Nelsen could make the transition to coaching.
Nelsen first impressed Clark when he worked with the New Zealand under-20 team in the mid-90s with assistant Allan Jones. ''He was going to be our captain and I was surprised when we both left that he wasn't even picked in the team.''
''He was always a captain, he was a leader on the field. In many ways, he was like a coach on the field. He was always well organised and he made other people around him play better, I think that's what a coach does. I think he's got a lot of the attributes needed to be a good coach.''
Nelsen's experience in the MLS with DC United, the Premier League and international football would serve him well, Clark said.
''He's a person that makes pretty good decisions in life, in general and I think he will do a good job [at Toronto].''
Clark spoke to Nelsen on the eve of the Toronto press conference and said the Kiwi ''sounded very excited''. He said he would ''always be available'' for Nelsen to talk with but he expected he would have his own firm ideas.
Former All Whites' midfielder and ex-Canterbury United coach Danny Halligan also had no doubt Nelsen had the attributes to succeed as a coach but he was surprised he was making the move now.
''I always knew he was going to be a coach because he's got all the credentials,'' said Halligan, who was player-coach at Christchurch United alongside a teenage Nelsen in the late-1990s.
''It's just surprised me that it's come this early. I thought he was still playing really well. But opportunities like this don't come up all the time and I guess he didn't want to turn it down. I think it's a great decision. It's going to be a massive challenge for him but if anyone can pull it off I'm sure Ryan can do it.''
''He's got great self-motivation and personal drive and that rubs off on [the team]. He's got a great work ethic and he does things simply. He's not a complicated player and that will make it really easy for players to understand him and what he wants them to do.''
Halligan said Nelsen was ''very level-headed'', which would stand him in good stead in pressure situations. ''He had a great understanding of the game and he was well-respected by older and players alike even when he was a really young player.''
Nelsen was ''always asking questions and challenging'' in a bid to produce better results.
Nelsen himself said it would be a huge advantage to have been part of a successful DC United team from 2001-05 after a US collegiate career. He knew the MLS 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.''
Nelsen cited Clark, former Blackburn and QPR manager Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, his boss at Tottenham and QPR, and former Blackburn boss Paul Ince as coaches he'd learnt most from.
- © Fairfax NZ News