Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Rufer backs Nelsen success

Ryan Nelsen is leaving Queens Park Rangers to take charge at Toronto FC. Photo / Photosport
Ryan Nelsen is leaving Queens Park Rangers to take charge at Toronto FC. Photo / Photosport

The New Zealander Ryan Nelsen is most often compared with - Wynton Rufer - believes the new Toronto manager has every chance of succeeding in his latest endeavour and predicts a managerial career for Nelsen that could go beyond the MLS.

Former World Cup All Whites coach John Adshead thinks that Nelsen's future could possibly include managing in the English Premier League or other big competitions.

Rufer, one of the few Kiwis with experience of football at the highest level, spending six successful seasons with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, has no doubts Nelsen has got what it takes.

"He has so much experience and knows what is coming," says Rufer. "And in his mind, he will believe he is ready. To make it as a footballer at the highest level, you have to have an unbelievable level of self-confidence - and Ryan won't lose that. It's a massive opportunity and an unbelievable position to get, really - to go straight into such a position from playing is very rare in football."

Rufer adds a note of caution, saying the scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated.

"There is obviously a lot to do [at Toronto]," says Rufer. "The owners are on his side and will be patient but he will need to deliver. He'll need to make good signings, build good structures and make good decisions."

The 35-year-old will be one of the youngest managers in a major professional league.

The marquee player at Toronto, former German international Torsten Frings (79 caps), is older than Nelsen, while their Dutch international Danny Koevermans is just a year younger.

"It's tricky when you are around the same age as some of the stars on the team," says Rufer, who became player-coach of the Kingz when aged 36. "If results don't come, they can be the guys knocking on the [owner's] door saying that things need to change."

Like Rufer, Adshead feels Nelsen is tailor made for the role and he has been "managing to some degree" during the last three or four years of his career.

"He has always been very mature and done things his own way," says Adshead. "I imagine over the last three or four years, his experience at Blackburn, QPR and especially with the All Whites have shaped his thinking that he could be ready for this now. He has come back to play for New Zealand with players at a different level to where he has been and had to adjust his game accordingly and think tactically and strategically."

Toronto have never made the MLS play-offs in their six-year history and were the league's worst performed team in 2012, winning just five games and conceding 66 goals. They have been through eight managers.

"In a way, there is an opportunity for him to get noticed much quicker," says Adshead. "There will be no major expectation on him to succeed, given his lack of managerial experience and all the failure that has preceded him, but if he does well, people will notice."

Adshead adds that Nelsen's Premier League background at blue collar clubs (excepting his brief spell at Spurs) set him up well for the challenges ahead.

"The managers that he has worked with - Mark Hughes, Steve Kean, Sam Allardyce - never had millions of pounds to spend and couldn't just buy any players they wanted," says Adshead. "That is a great learning environment. I think he has got the ability - possibly - to eventually manage in the Premier League or one of the other big competitions, though at the moment, he is completely untried. The next 12-18 months could lay the platform for the rest of his life."

The full MLS draw was released on Friday and underlined the scale of the task ahead. Toronto want Nelsen there when the season kicks off on March 2 (the earliest start in league history and just seven weeks away) with a game against Vancouver. The 34-game regular season concludes on October 27, before the top five teams in each of the two conferences move into a lengthy play-off series which runs into December.

Reports from the UK maintain that Nelsen will this week meet Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp, who will attempt to convince the defender to remain at the club until their Premier League fate has been decided. There is no telling how long that will take. Nelson's contract runs until June 30 and Redknapp is determined that Nelsen stays until the team have guaranteed their survival or been relegated.

QPR remain bottom of the Premier League having won only two of 21 fixtures, albeit the most recent being last week's 1-0 victory at Chelsea.

Nelsen has been one of their few impressive performers since arriving on a free transfer in June. Redknapp can ill afford to lose the New Zealand international at such a critical stage of the campaign. He was due to make that clear to Nelsen shortly after last night's match with Spurs.

Nelsen has been reported as saying that his ideal scenario would be for the team to "get five straight wins" so he could leave knowing they were on their way to ensuring Premier League safety.

That is unlikely to occur. After Spurs, QPR face tough trips to West Brom and West Ham before hosting champions Manchester City.

From player to manager

Four who could
*Kenny Dalglish: Still a player when he guided Liverpool to the double in 1985-86 and managed the club to three league titles, two FA Cups and a League Cup.
*Graeme Souness: Despite later failures at Liverpool (among other clubs), Souness achieved spectacular success in his first foray into management with Rangers, winning three Scottish league championships, as well as several domestic cups.
*Gordon Strachan: The fiery Scot was a managerial master, overseeing several relegation escapes with Coventry City, then leading Southampton to an FA Cup final and Celtic to three consecutive Scottish championships.
*Glenn Hoddle: Guided Swindon into the Premier League as a player-manager and later took Chelsea to the FA Cup.

Four who couldn't
*Ruud Gullit: Achieved some success at Chelsea, winning the FA Cup in his first year, but has struggled at every post since.
*Roy Keane: Did well to get Sunderland promoted but couldn't maintain the momentum. Later sacked by Ipswich Town as the club flirted with relegation from the Championship.
*Paul Ince: Enjoyed a promising start at Macclesfield Town and MK Dons but 'The Guvnor' failed at Blackburn and struggled in subsequent short stints back at MK Dons and with Notts County.
*Attilio Lombardo: Hampered by the fact he could barely speak English (Swedish international Tomas Brolin was his interpreter), Lombardo's brief spell as player-manager of Crystal Palace had a predictable end, with the club relegated from the Premier League in 1998.

- Herald on Sunday

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