Ryan Nelsen is urging New Zealand Football to show leadership on two counts in the wake of the men's under-23 Olympic campaign.
The All Whites and Oly-Whites captain wants more football nous brought to the table when preparing international teams for big tournaments such as the Olympics, and he wants the national body to move to secure coach Neil Emblen's immediate future.
Emblen is out of a job at Waitakere United, despite guiding them to three successive national league titles, because they want a fulltime coach and he wants to keep assisting Ricki Herbert with the All Whites when they are in camp.
Emblen said he was heading straight back to New Zealand to “coach five-year-olds” so he can keep a wage, but otherwise his future is up in the air.
“No disrespect to the five-year-olds, but it would be extremely sad to have someone of Neil's coaching ability wasted at that level,” Nelsen said of the former English premier league professional, who has forged a coaching career since he finished playing with the defunct Knights and Waitakere.
“Somebody at NZF has got to show some leadership and some vision and look beyond two weeks. If they want to groom players and coaches to compete at this level, then they have to start thinking about it. It'd be a huge waste of talent.”
Nelsen has been impressed by Emblen's attention to detail and he's also been impressed by the way the under-23 team (he was one of the three over-age players allowed at the Games) dealt with the pre-Olympic travel schedule.
They played South Korea in Seoul, Japan in Tokyo and the United Arab Emirates in Austria in the two weeks preceding their opening Olympic match against Belarus.
“You have to recover all the time, from the games and the travel, so you have no real high-intensity trainings, but unfortunately there's nobody at New Zealand Football who thinks on an elite level when it comes to international football,” Nelsen said.
He would like more matches and more time in between them for future teams, but understands there are challenges in achieving that.
“This Brazil team has played 25-30 games to get here, we've had no forward thinking like that. Even the UAE had played 20 games. Before we go out there we're under the cosh, but unfortunately we have to deal with that.”
Presumably, all this will be the task of new high-performance director Fred de Jong, a former All Whites striker whose most recent involvement in football has been as a television commentator, and as a board member of both NZF and the Oceania Football Confederation.
Many inside the game are questioning his lack of high-performance background.
Nelsen said: “Hopefully Fred will do a good job and get some elite thinking, some structure and some vision, and some sort of football DNA.”
Nelsen, who now returns to Queens Park Rangers to begin preparing for the upcoming premier league season, said there was some “fantastic talent” in the Olympic team and the experience would be hugely beneficial.
Emblen echoed those sentiments, but there was a feeling of ‘what if?'.
They ended the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Belarus, 1-1 draw with Egypt and yesterday's 3-0 loss to Brazil in Newcastle, but they should have beaten Belarus. To their credit, they did try to play a possession-based game.
“Disappointed with Belarus,” Emblen said. “If we played them again now, I really believe we could win. I know it's ifs, buts and maybes.
“I do believe we've improved - the players will all go back into All Whites' frame better for this, which can only help the World Cup campaign.
"Some of these guys have proven they can compete at this level.”
One of those is Tim Payne, 18, who is with Blackburn Rovers, but yet to appear in the first-team. He looked the goods in the holding midfield role.
- © Fairfax NZ News