Smith picks his club over playing for All Whites

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014
Tommy Smith
Getty Images
NO BRAINER: Tommy Smith says missing the All Whites' friendly match vs. Japan was "a bit of no-brainer for me" given that his bread and butter is Ipswich Town.

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The international future of senior All Whites defender Tommy Smith is under a cloud after New Zealand Football moved to take a harder stance on player availability.

Smith made himself unavailable for the All Whites' 4-2 loss to Japan in Tokyo this month, choosing to instead focus on his club commitments with Ipswich Town.

In the absence of the injured Winston Reid, the 23-year-old captained New Zealand in November's failed World Cup qualifiers against Mexico.

But in an interview with the East Anglian Daily Times this week, Smith revealed his frustration that NZF would not allow him to play for Ipswich before joining the All Whites' camp in Los Angeles.

"International fixtures aren't meant to conflict with your club games and it really annoyed and disappointed me that they wouldn't allow me to play in that game," Smith said.

"I haven't really got anything to say other than that. It all happened behind closed doors, we had a conversation and I don't really want to make that public at this stage. To be fair that was before a number of changes. There is a new CEO in charge of New Zealand Football now and the head coach has changed as well. They've said they want to put a policy into place which will make more sense to the clubs. Hopefully, going forwards, we won't have any of those sort of situations again."

An NZF spokesman said new chief executive Andy Martin was not available for an interview yesterday, but instead a statement was issued.

"We expect all of our eligible players to make themselves available for selection as we seek to build our programme towards the Fifa World Cup in Russia in 2018," Martin said.

"We have an exciting young squad and we hope everyone selected will want to be involved. Clearly, there will be special circumstances that arise which will be considered on their own merits."

Whether or not "special circumstances" include Smith picking and choosing his battles remains to be seen.

Smith described missing the Japan match as a "no-brainer" as Ipswich strive for promotion to the English Premier League.

"It was only a friendly and with the amount of games we (Ipswich) had in March and the importance of those games I thought it was vital to stay behind and make sure I am right physically and mentally for those games. It was a bit of a no-brainer for me. As much as I love playing for New Zealand, obviously my bread and butter is Ipswich Town and I want to do as well as I can for them in order to push for these promotion places."

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Smith said interim All Whites coach Neil Emblen "understood his situation" which "bodes well for the future".

"There's another friendly in June, but I don't think I'll attend that one either. I need a nice long summer break, hopefully with promotion under our belts if all goes well."

Emblen and Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx are the leading local contenders to replace Ricki Herbert as permanent All Whites coach.

But Martin said the net would be cast far and wide.

"Once the review process from the previous campaign is completed in April, the All Whites' coaching job will be advertised globally and we expect a lot of interest."

- Fairfax Media

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