Jason Pine is Radio Sport's former football commentator

Football: Anthony Hudson defends Alex Rufer's All Whites selection

Alex Rufer playing for New Zealand at the U-20 World Cup. Photo / Getty
Alex Rufer playing for New Zealand at the U-20 World Cup. Photo / Getty

One of the true beauties of football is that everyone sees the game and its participants in a different way.

One coach's fringe player is another's rusted-on starter and someone who is largely ignored by one manager can be warmly appreciated by another.

There's no better demonstration of this adage than the current make-up of the All Whites. With UK-based striker Monty Patterson ruled out of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Fiji with a hamstring injury, coach Anthony Hudson has called up Wellington Phoenix midfielder Alex Rufer, despite a severe lack of recent game time.

Rufer has made three A-League appearances for the Phoenix this season, playing a combined total of just 49 minutes. His last top-flight appearance (for four minutes off the bench) was over four months ago. In recent weeks, he's also been starved of reserve team action, with rumours swirling around the club that he has fallen out of favour and is free to leave with a year still left on his contract.

By contrast, Kosta Barbarouses has played all but two of the Phoenix's 23 games this season, but has been overlooked for this All Whites squad, despite also being a fixture in the New Zealand side since Hudson took over in mid-2014 and well before that.

Hudson is adamant the Phoenix have got it wrong.

"Alex Rufer is one of the best young players in New Zealand," he declared following the All Whites first training session of the week which featured seven of the 23-man squad he's named to face Fiji home and away in the next eight days.

"When he played with the under-23's he was outstanding and not only was he technically good, he had fight and spirit. He made his (All Whites) debut and did really well and then got unfortunate with his injury."

"I came down to Phoenix training (recently) and he was the player I know. Reports from the other players were that he's flying in training every day. That's enough for me; I know this player, so I'm really pleased he's with us."

Hudson was also quick to point out that the job of selecting and coaching a national team that gathers infrequently and comes together from all parts of the globe is vastly different from the day-to-day management of a professional club side.

"If you look in the Premier League, there are players sat on benches who can't get in their Premier League teams, who go and play internationals and they're superstars for their countries. I can't pick Australian players or Dutch players or whatever, so my job is different to the Phoenix."

"You can't compare the way I select to the way a club selects because it's completely different," he said.

Hudson is also not averse to picking players from outside professional environments, while leaving full-time A-League players like Barbarouses, Phoenix team-mate Matthew Ridenton and Central Coast fullback Storm Roux on the outer.

"I won't be influenced by whether a player is playing for a certain team," he said.

"There are lots of young players - Sam Brotherton, Clayton Lewis, Kip Colvey, Deklan Wynne - that the Phoenix haven't signed, but that doesn't mean that other clubs (don't) value them."

"Everyone's got a different opinion on the game and players, but as the national team manager, just because they're not playing for the Phoenix doesn't mean we give them the cold shoulder. That's wrong."

The All Whites will train in the capital until Thursday before travelling to Fiji for Saturday's game in Lautoka. The return fixture is next Tuesday night at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

- NZ Herald

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