Soccer: Smith's switch major boost for All Whites

By Chris Rattue

Tommy Smith. Photo / Supplied
Tommy Smith. Photo / Supplied

The All Whites have received the World Cup boost they were hoping for with the Ipswich defender Tommy Smith, who is also eligible to play for England, agreeing to join New Zealand's campaign in South Africa.

While there is still paperwork to be done, Smith - who will have just turned 20 by the time the tournament kicks off in June - is all but assured of a place in the New Zealand squad for the finals.

Once New Zealand had qualified for South Africa, the odds were that Smith would regard senior England selection as too much of a long shot compared with a guaranteed place in the World Cup, the stage of dreams for footballers around the globe.

Smith, an England youth international, has now emailed New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert to confirm he wants to align himself with New Zealand, a move that will not only strengthen the 2010 World Cup squad but also give the All Whites another young player established in the English professional game.

While it may be of secondary importance now, the excitement around the All Whites' successful qualification game against Bahrain in Wellington has further increased the resolve and confidence in building future teams who can raise the standard and profile of football in New Zealand.

Herbert, who was 21 when he played in the 1982 finals, told the Herald last night that Smith would definitely be included in the 23-man squad who will play Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay in Group F at venues around South Africa.

Herbert may now have to negotiate with Smith's club manager, the famed Roy Keane, over the player's involvement in the warm-up campaign.

Herbert said: "Tommy was very excited about the prospect - he is a young man with a big future. I've asked New Zealand Football to start doing the paperwork.

"It's wonderful news for us.

"I hope there are no obstacles and I think the process should be pretty straight forward as it was for Rory Fallon and Michael McGlinchey."

A question now is what part Smith - whose Ipswich club plays in the English championship, a division below the Premier League - will play in the warm-up matches. But Herbert said whichever way that panned out, Smith was still assured of going to South Africa.

Smith is a left-sided defender who could play in a number of formations for the All Whites.

The England-born Smith came to New Zealand with his family in 1998, made his mark with the Westlake Boys High School first XI and was part of the national youth development systems.

But there were continual questions about whether he would quit New Zealand football to try to forge a professional career in his homeland, which he eventually did.

The New Zealand-born Fallon and McGlinchey played for England and Scotland junior teams.

However, they successfully went through the Fifa process to become part of the All Whites' set up, setting a precedent that should help ensure Smith's switch of allegiance is trouble free.

- NZ Herald

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