ALL WHITES coach Ricki Herbert has hailed Ryan Nelsen as an “all time great” after the defender confirmed his retirement from the game this week.
As expected, Nelsen has decided to retire from on-field action at both club and international level as he prepares to take up the coaching role at MLS club Toronto FC.
Nelsen advised New Zealand Football he would be stepping down as skipper, and he will also quite London Premier League strugglers Queens Park Rangers to take up the coaching role on February 1.
Herbert told Fairfax NZ Nelsen was an “all-time great” of New Zealand football, saying he would “leave a huge hole” in the All Whites’ ranks.
The 35-year-old spent eight years in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham Hotspur and QPR.
His last match will be against Manchester City next week.
New Zealand Football had hoped Nelsen would consider playing on at international level until the end of the Oceania World Cup qualifying series in March, and even remain for the inter-continental playoffs later in the year.
Nelsen considered it, but opted out.
“When you’re not enjoying the playing side as much as other aspects of football, you know it is time to move on. That time is now and I want to commit all my energies into my coaching career.”
Herbert told Nelsen it was “a great honour and a privilege to have him in the side and to captain the team in the World Cup finals”.
“It’s disappointing to lose a player of that stature, that’s for sure. But the [World Cup] campaign moves on and we’ve got a game to win [to clinch the Oceania qualifying berth].”
Herbert was already thinking about potential replacements as skipper.
Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith has been Nelsen’s recent understudy, New Zealand’s most-capped All White Ivan Vicelich has also worn the armband, and Winston Reid captained premier league club West Ham United in a recent English cup tie.
Australia-born Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is also an option, having switched allegiance to New Zealand.
“We’ve only been given the news [of Nelsen’s retirement] today, so I’ll just get through the weekend and and sit down with a couple of the [All Whites] staff.”
NZF chairman Frank Van Hattum said of Nelsen: “without doubt, one of our all-time greats”.
“Like many sports greats, he has gone out on his own terms.
“The fairytale would have been for the All Whites to qualify for the  World Cup finals in Brazil with Ryan at the helm, but this is the reality of professional football.”
Nelsen is ranked by many as being only second behind Oceania player of the century Wynton Rufer, a German and European Cup Winners Cup victor with Werder Bremen, as our greatest footballers.
Nelsen made his All Whites debut in June 1999 against Poland, while still a soccer scholarship student at Stanford University in California.
He played in the 1999 and 2003 Confederations Cup finals, captained New Zealand at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and the 2010 World Cup finals.
He played 49 matches for the All Whites.