OPINION: Ryan Nelsen's imminent departure from the All Whites' playing ranks has not only left a giant hole in the team's defensive set-up but even more so in a leadership capacity.
As plenty of those in the media have pointed out, Nelsen's biggest contribution has been felt in his ability to lead and get the very best out of those around them. While "conning" is far too harsh a word, Nelsen was the master of making players feel 10 feet tall and invincible regardless of who their opponents might be.
Take the game against Italy in the 2010 World Cup. A team largely made up of journeymen and relatively low- level professionals held a team full of household names. There is no mistake that Nelsen, aptly aided by Simon Elliot, masterminded that. Rather than being overawed, the All Whites felt every bit the equal of the Italians.
Which begs the question, who is capable of taking that mantle on now? One person who shouldn't be considered is Andrew Durante, should he even be eligible to play for the All Whites at all. While the Phoenix captain is a great professional at A-League level and definitely must be considered as part of the squad, it's a disgrace to suggest that he potentially captain our national side.
Because, let's be honest, Durante would be playing for Australia if he was good enough. He would have loved to be regularly representing the Socceroos, which is fair enough as Australia is his country of birth, where he was brought up, and where the majority of his family resides.
He can talk all day long about having property in New Zealand, his daughter being born here etc, but the reality is, playing for the All Whites is merely a route back into international football for him. That should rule him out of ever wearing the captain's armband for New Zealand.
Tommy Smith is a genuine candidate. The Ipswich defender has captained the side a number of times in Nelsen's absence. While he is an outstanding young man who carries himself incredibly well both on and off the pitch, I do have reservations about whether he has the personality to command and get the best out of his teammates. A leader needs to come to the fore when the going gets tough and Smith failed on that front in Honiara last year. That said, he is young and will have learnt some invaluable lessons from that experience, so certainly shouldn't be ruled out.
Ultimately though, if I had to choose an All Whites captain it would be Winston Reid. Firstly, Reid has shown he is absolutely committed to playing for New Zealand. He could have chosen Denmark but opted to go with his roots and his heart. He is also now the highest profile player we have got. He is pretty much a guaranteed starter at West Ham and will be playing Premier League football for many years to come having just signed a contract extension.
But what has really caught my eye is his ability to communicate and organise team-mates. He appears to grow in confidence every game he plays at that level and has gained an appreciation for what individual players need to do for the team to achieve success.
Playing at that level and in that league, Reid will only continue to develop those skills. It is not by chance that he wore the captain's armband for West Ham against Manchester United in the FA Cup replay. He should be given the chance to do it for his country now.
- Danny Hay is a former All White
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