Michael Burgess

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

Soccer: Lows eased Reid to top of his game

Relegation is often the stuff of football nightmares but for Winston Reid, demotion might have been the making of him.

In the afterglow of his stunning 2010 World Cup campaign, Reid signed for West Ham in August 2010 and started the first match of the season, a 3-0 loss away at Aston Villa.

He maintained his place in the starting 11 for a few more games before being dropped, as the Hammers endured their worst ever top flight start.

The campaign didn't improve for the team nor Reid; under manager Avram Grant they yielded just seven wins in 38 matches to finish bottom. Reid, who struggled for form and confidence, was also hampered by injuries and made just 12 first team appearances across the season.

Fast forward 18 months and Reid is now an established player at Upton Park and part of a defensive line that has started the season in style.

"I think that year [in the Championship] was probably the best thing that could have happened to Winston," says former All White Danny Hay, one of a handful of New Zealanders who have featured in the Premier League. "Over there it is dog-eat-dog and you sometimes don't have much time to make an impression, especially if the team is not going well. If you don't grab your opportunity it can be all over pretty quickly and there often won't be a second chance."

There have been plenty Kiwis who have had a chance at English clubs, failed to establish themselves and soon found themselves on the outer.

"Down in the Championship, Winston had a chance to find his feet," adds Hay. "It was also good for him technically; Winston was quick and had physical presence but over that season he became a much better out-and-out defender."

Under Sam Allardyce's management, West Ham gained promotion at the first attempt. Reid made 33 appearances across the triumphant season and was part of the fourth best defence in the league that kept 18 clean sheets. Reid also found the net three times.

"In a way it was a blessing," Reid said. "[In the Championship] I got to play regularly after that first year when I was in and out of the team. It was definitely a difficult first year for me."

It also helped that Allardyce saw his potential, after cutting 10 players soon after he arrived at Upton Park.

"It was very important that I had a manager who believed in me after the first year," says Reid. "That gives you confidence. It can be tough in England, especially early on, so that helps to maintain your belief."

Reid's progress can't be underestimated. He is a natural talent - that was shown in South Africa - who is quick and strong. But he had impetuous touches, rough edges and even the occasional red mist moment, like his studs-up tackle against Paraguay at Westpac Stadium in 2010 that saw him sent off. Now with changes to his temperament, he is becoming a rounded player. "Ryan [Nelsen] and Winston are vital for us," said All Whites coach Ricki Herbert after the recent match against the Solomon Islands. "They are both Premier League defenders and really they are like our Richie McCaw and Dan Carter."

"When he first came into the Premier League he looked a bit raw," says New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred De Jong. "Now he looks like he can handle the pace of the game. He has more time, he plays things simple and isn't diving in as much as he was before. There will be some hard times this season but he now looks comfortable at that level."

Right now life is pretty good for the former North Shore boy. He is starting in the biggest football competition (and arguably most high profile sporting league) in the world, his moves seen on television screens from Bangladesh to Brunei.

He was man of the match in West Ham's 0-0 draw at Norwich last week, impressive given his marathon travel schedule the preceding week. Still only 24, he is already a senior player for his country and recently notched his first Premier League goal.

"I'm feeling good," says Reid, "I feel like I have started the season well but it is all about continuing. I always want to progress as a footballer.

"Obviously the Premier League is one of the toughest leagues in the world, so every time you go out there you have to be ready. The first few games I feel like I have done well and now it is just about pressing on. You have to feel like you're an important member of the team, otherwise you wouldn't have any confidence as a player. You have to believe in yourself, stay positive [and] keep positive thoughts in your mind and think you should play week-in, week-out. Then when you get the chance, it is up to you to take it."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 30 Jul 2014 19:24:29 Processing Time: 440ms