Smith: Team should be all white in long run
Keep the kids. That's the mantra that should be adopted by whoever inherits the All Whites head coach's job.
The All Whites may have crashed to a 4-2 defeat to a patchy Japanese World Cup team in Tokyo yesterday, but there were sufficient signs to be hopeful of a brighter future for a team still reeling from the 9-3 series shellacking by Mexico last November.
Interim coach Neil Emblen put out a lineup with an average age of 22, including 19-year-old debutants Ryan Thomas and Tyler Boyd.
They shipped four goals in the first 17 minutes - almost certainly a record for a New Zealand team - but battled back to score two quality goals from Leicester City striker Chris Wood, a veritable "elder" statesman at the grand old age of 22.
Emblen may not get the gig as Ricki Herbert's ultimate replacement. The former English premier league player admits he's yet to earn his coaching spurs at international level.
But his rebuilding policy must be maintained.
Bring back skipper Winston Reid, 25, an English premier league defender with West Ham United, Ipswich Town centreback Tommy Smith, 23, and the mercurial Marco Rojas, 21, and the All Whites may just have a team for the future.
Versatile defender Bill Tuiloma (Olympique Marseille) is still only 18, midfield anchorman Tim Payne (Blackburn Rovers) has just turned 20, utility Cameron Howieson (Burnley) is barely 19 and fullback Storm Roux blew out 21 candles in January.
More than one ex-All White may have bristled when they heard Emblen was handing caps to kids still wet behind the ears - no-one likes to see players promoted before their time.
But these were the boldest selections by an All Whites boss since John Adshead introduced a teenage kid called Wynton Rufer just before the 1982 World Cup finals.
Yes, the youthful All Whites are still green and naive - they virtually gifted the Japanese their goals.
But, outside man-of-the-match Wood, rookies Boyd and Thomas were among New Zealand's better performers. They and Rojas suddenly supply a level of skill and elusiveness not seen in an All Whites side since Rufer and Michael McGarry were in their pomp in the mid-80s to early 90s.
The All Whites haven't got anyone of Ryan Nelsen's stature as a defender or an organiser, yet Reid and Smith could come in for Andrew Durante and Michael Boxall, to demonstrably strengthen the back four. Smith is, at this stage, a more capable stopper than Boxall, but the latter could be the better longerterm option because he has more pace.
But Tuiloma and Reid appeal as a likely central defensive duo, particularly if injured Wellington Phoenix product Louis Fenton, 20, continues his development at right back.
Payne has a big engine in central midfield but there's still no dominant figure in that department in the mould of Steve Sumner, Duncan Cole or Allan Boath from the 1982 World Cup squad, or even Simon Elliott.
But give Emblen's embryonic team time. They were woeful in the first quarter but competitive thereafter. The All Whites missed a few red-hot chances and the scoreline only blew out because captain Glen Moss committed a couple of goalkeeping clangers.
There's no point now in going back to the likes of Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead, Chris Killen, Rory Fallon and Ben Sigmund, who helped the All Whites reach the World Cup finals in 2010 but whose careers have now peaked at international level.
New Zealand Football needs to get the All Whites more games against teams of Japan's calibre so their kids can kick on - and, in the interest of continuity, they should retain Emblen as an assistant to an experienced international coach.