Soccer: Durante seen as new Nelsen

By Michael Brown

Australian-born Wellington Phoenix skipper possible replacement to fill boots of retiring All Whites great

Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. Photo / Getty Images
Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. Photo / Getty Images

He may not possess the aura and ability of Ryan Nelsen, at least yet, but Australian-born Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante is looming as a possible replacement for one of this country's greatest soccer players.

Nelsen is widely expected to be unveiled as Toronto FC coach today when he is also expected to retire from playing. The 35-year-old could possibly assume a role as a player-coach but it's highly unlikely for someone who has no coaching experience and will want to commit to his new job fulltime.

Durante qualifies to play for New Zealand in March after nearly five years in this country and has started proceedings to become a New Zealand citizen. To date, the 30-year-old has consistently played a straight bat over his interest in playing for the All Whites but New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred de Jong said he expected Durante to switch allegiance.

Durante has been called into Australian squads previously but is uncapped and, given his name was missing from a recent squad that contained 16 A-League players, it looks unlikely he will ever play for the Socceroos.

"The ball is in his court but I have spoken to him about it," de Jong said. "He's looking into becoming a citizen. At the point that comes through, then he has to present papers to New Zealand Football and we would then take them to Fifa.

"He's going through that process so, by that, I expect he will change over."

Durante is Wellington's captain and best defender who reads the game well. He would also allow All Whites coach Ricki Herbert to retain his favoured 3-4-3 formation and could play alongside Winston Reid and Tommy Smith at the back.

He would, however, be filling extremely big boots.

When Nelsen was last in New Zealand in October to play for the All Whites, Herbert described him and Winston Reid as their Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

Nelsen wanted to be Carter - "I think I'm a lot better looking than Richie," he quipped - but the point was that the public quiver whenever their two best All Blacks are absent.

Nelsen, however, is much more important than that. The All Blacks can still win a World Cup without Carter but it's questionable whether the All Whites can qualify for consecutive World Cups without Nelsen.

NZF has not heard from Nelsen about his plans and, like everyone else, is waiting with interest until his official unveiling at Toronto.

De Jong said they remained "hopeful" he might play on with key World Cup qualifiers looming but Nelsen might not be willing to play for country if he wasn't playing at club level.

- APNZ

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