Nelsen’s ad­mirable ca­reer goes on

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - JOSEPH RO­MANOS

Ryan Nelsen’s im­mi­nent move to Toronto has be­come a bit messy, but that shouldn’t cloud the way we view one of our rare foot­ball greats.

Nelsen, 35, is to be Toronto FC’s next head coach. When the an­nounce­ment was made it was un­clear when that might be.

What about his play­ing com­mit­ments with Queens Park Rangers and New Zealand?

The wa­ters were fur­ther mud­died by sting­ing crit­i­cism from Toronto foot­ball fans, for hir­ing a head coach with­out coach­ing or man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence.

I have a feel­ing it will work out well for Nelsen. I’ve crossed paths with Nelsen only in­fre­quently, such as at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics and dur­ing the All Whites’ most re­cent World Cup cam­paign.

What has al­ways stood out is his in­tel­li­gence, not sur­pris­ing in some­one who gained a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence de­gree at Stan­ford Univer­sity.

He was just a lad from Christchurch when he was signed by DC in 2001 to play Ma­jor League Soc­cer. Within a short time he was cap­tain­ing the Washington side. It was the same when he was lured to Eng­land by Black­burn Rovers in 2005. Again, he was soon cap­tain­ing the team.

Af­ter 172 games for Black­burn, he’s had short pre­mier di­vi­sion stints with Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and Queens Park Rangers. That adds up to a pretty im­pres­sive CV.

As a de­fender, Nelsen hasn’t the glam­our of a striker, un­like our other great foot­baller, Wyn­ton Rufer. But he’s just as valu­able.

Who could for­get how he marshalled the All Whites’ de­fence dur­ing that mem­o­rable evening at Welling­ton Sta­dium in 2009, when they beat Bahrain to seal a place at the 2010 World Cup fi­nals? That was real lead­er­ship.

In the fi­nals, in South Africa, the lightly-re­garded All Whites were un­beaten in three matches against top- level op­po­si­tion. Who’d have be­lieved that be­fore­hand?

Nelsen was in­spir­ing. ESPN even named him in its World Cup tour­na­ment team. Not sur­pris­ingly, All Whites coach Ricki Her­bert wanted Nelsen on board as long as pos­si­ble, even sug­gest­ing he could lead New Zealand at the next World Cup, in Brazil in 2014. He’ll be nearly 37 then. Even for a de­fender that’s long in the tooth to be play­ing World Cup foot­ball.

Nelsen is mov­ing from play­ing to coach­ing at just the right time, be­fore his ad­vanc­ing age and his body let him down.

To judge by his ca­reer so far, he’ll make a good fist of coach­ing at Toronto, de­spite the be­lea­guered club fans’ con­cerns.

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