Kiwi goal king hangs up his boots

The All Whites striker is work­ing to­wards mak­ing the tran­si­tion from player to coach, writes Ja­son Pine.

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

Two of the most pro­lific shoot­ing boots in New Zealand foot­ball his­tory have been hung up for good.

Af­ter a glit­ter­ing, goal-laden, 18-year ca­reer, Shane Smeltz has re­tired.

The 36-year old leaves as New Zealand’s most con­sis­tent scorer of the past two decades, find­ing the back of the net ev­ery­where from Aus­tralia and New Zealand to Eng­land, Turkey, Malaysia and In­done­sia.

He’s been a fix­ture in the All Whites since 2003, play­ing all three games at the 2010 World Cup, fa­mously scor­ing in the his­toric 1-1 draw with de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Italy.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to know when the right time is. I could po­ten­tially drag my ca­reer out a lit­tle longer, but I’ve got a tran­si­tion I’ve had in mind for a num­ber of years,” said Smeltz. “I had a long ca­reer in the A-League and a great in­ter­na­tional ca­reer. It’s all about tim­ing and this is the right time.”

Born in Ger­many, Smeltz grew up in Aus­tralia and played his early se­nior foot­ball for Gold Coast City, Bris­bane Strik­ers and Ade­laide City, also en­joy­ing a sea­son with Napier City Rovers in 2002.

When Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Soc­cer League was dis­banded in 2004, Smeltz de­cided to try his luck in Eng­land. It was a move which al­most saw him lost to the game.

“There were some hard times. I didn’t have any­where to go, there wasn’t a great amount of sup­port and I had my first child on the way. I couldn’t just keep float­ing around. I needed to do some­thing with my life. I thought I’d have to go down a dif­fer­ent path and give up the game I re­ally loved and played all my life.”

Smeltz bat­tled for two years in Eng­land’s tough lower leagues with Mans­field Town, AFC Wim­ble­don and Hal­i­fax Town be­fore plan­ning a move back to Aus­tralia. He con­tacted sev­eral A-League clubs but was told their ros­ters were full.

Then, a cru­cial turn­ing point. In May 2007, the All Whites played Wales in the build-up to their 2010 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign. Hav­ing lost heav­ily to Venezuela and Costa Rica two months ear­lier and with a host of play­ers un­avail­able, New Zealand were con­sid­ered whip­ping boys. In­stead they earned a cred­itable 2-2 draw against a side in­clud­ing Premier League stars Ryan

Giggs and Craig Bel­lamy, with Smeltz scor­ing both goals.

It started a golden run in white, in which Smeltz scored eight goals in his next five games for New Zealand. More im­por­tantly, it earned him a con­tract with the Welling­ton Phoenix for their in­au­gu­ral sea­son in the A-League.

Ricki Her­bert was coach of club and coun­try and of­fered Smeltz a con­tract. His first A-League goal came on de­but and he scored nine times that sea­son be­fore adding a dozen more in 2008-09.

Two years af­ter sit­ting close to tears in his car on a cold English night won­der­ing what his foot­balling fu­ture held — or even if he had one — Smeltz stood on stage at the A-League awards night with the prize for the com­pe­ti­tion’s best player, the Johnny War­ren Medal, hang­ing around his neck.

From knock­ing hope­fully and un­suc­cess­fully on doors, Smeltz was now hot prop­erty and bil­lion­aire owner Clive Palmer tempted him to Gold Coast United. Smeltz con­tin­ued to pro­duce, win­ning a sec­ond Golden Boot in 2009-10 with 19 goals, in­clud­ing four in one mem­o­rable game against North Queens­land. From there, it was on to Perth Glory, then Syd­ney FC and back to Welling­ton last sea­son.

In a 10-year A-League ca­reer, Smeltz net­ted 92 goals in 190 games, sec­ond only to Mel­bourne Vic­tory’s Be­sart Ber­isha. Sim­i­larly, he re­tires as New Zealand’s jointsec­ond top scorer (along­side Chris Wood) with 24, with only Vaughan Coveny (29) ahead.

Through­out his ca­reer, Smeltz had — and honed — the un­canny knack of get­ting him­self into scor­ing po­si­tions. The best ex­am­ple was his most fa­mous goal against Italy at the 2010 World Cup. Si­mon El­liott’s swing­ing free kick brushed the head of Win­ston Reid, caus­ing Ital­ian cap­tain Fabio Can­navaro to mis­con­trol. Smeltz pounced, and poked the ball un­der­neath the ad­vanc­ing goal­keeper.

“It’s some­thing I’ll cher­ish for­ever. I re­mem­ber play­ing in the back­yard, set­ting up Mum’s pot­plants as goal­posts, drib­bling around and do­ing my own com­men­tary, pre­tend­ing I was at the World Cup. I get emo­tional talk­ing about it even now be­cause it was ba­si­cally a boy­hood dream come true. In con­ver­sa­tion, it’s one of the first things peo­ple bring up — that I played and scored against Italy at the World Cup.”

Smeltz leaves on his own terms with a solid plan for his fu­ture. Now back on the Gold Coast with wife Nikki and daugh­ters Bon­nie and Scar­lett, he’ll shortly head off­shore to com­plete his UEFA A coach­ing li­cence. Be­yond that, he is work­ing to­wards a coach­ing role.

“I’m not just go­ing into coach­ing to take up a job. I go into it with drive and am­bi­tion which I al­ways had as a player. I’m ex­cited and re­ally look­ing for­ward to it.”

But there is one thing he’ll find hard to repli­cate.

“If there’s one feel­ing in foot­ball that I’ll miss, it’s hit­ting the back of the net and that feel­ing of be­ing on top of the world. It’s a sen­sa­tion you can’t beat. Whether it’s the lower leagues of Eng­land or against Italy at the World Cup, it’s the most amaz­ing feel­ing.”

If any­one would know, it’s Shane Smeltz.

Shane Smeltz re­tires as the sec­ond­top scorer for New Zealand and in the A-League.

Getty Im­ages

Shane Smeltz’s most fa­mous goal — giv­ing the All Whites an un­likely lead against Italy at the 2010 World Cup.

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