Kiwi goal king hangs up his boots
The All Whites striker is working towards making the transition from player to coach, writes Jason Pine.
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.
Shane Smeltz’s most famous goal — giving the All Whites an unlikely lead against Italy at the 2010 World Cup.