Soccer: Grand farewell for 'warrior' Nelsen

By Michael Brown

As fans applaud, errant keeper almost steals the limelight from defender who has made big impact at QPR.

Ryan Nelsen. Photo / Getty Images
Ryan Nelsen. Photo / Getty Images

It's a scene even Ryan Nelsen would have had a chuckle over after a career trying to keep a handle on flashy forwards.

As his Queens Park Rangers teammates formed a guard of honour for the big defender after what is likely to be his last game as a professional player, goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who had made a number of world-class saves to frustrate English champions Manchester City, thought it was for him and proceeded through.

A member of QPR's backroom staff pushed the Brazilian to the side and Nelsen also gave him a gentle shove before taking the applause from grateful QPR fans who chanted, "there's only one Ryan Nelsen".

It's something New Zealand soccer fans have known for some time and many more are now appreciating what he achieved in a remarkable (by New Zealand standards) career.

The ovation and adulation he received yesterday was after only seven months with the West London club.

The fact Nelsen was given such a send-off - when the cynical may have seen his move as jumping off a sinking ship - was a measure of the impact he made.

Owner Tony Fernandes tweeted that Nelsen had been "an absolute star" and former QPR midfielder Joey Barton, a hard man to impress, labelled Nelsen a "warrior".

"I wish Ryan Nelsen would [stay], but I think we're struggling ... he will be missed massively," QPR boss Harry Redknapp said.

Yesterday's 0-0 draw with Manchester City was an appropriate way for Nelsen to go out. He was brilliant as he helped repel a City side desperate to keep pace with leaders Manchester United.

Incredibly for a side sitting bottom of the Premier League table, QPR have conceded only one goal in their last four league games. For that, Nelsen must take a lot of credit.

Talking to MLSsoccer.com yesterday Nelsen said he would be sad to leave England but is excited about his next challenge.

"Obviously, it's just that time, you know," Nelsen said. "That's life. I'm not getting any younger and I always felt to get to 35-and-a-half [and still playing well], I would have given my left arm to do that 15 years go. So I have no complaints. I leave on my terms and I feel extremely fortunate to even have had that opportunity."

The former All Whites captain played 18 matches for QPR this season after a stint with Tottenham Hotspur last year on the back of playing seven seasons and 172 games for Blackburn Rovers.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] at the top of my game, but I'm close," Nelsen said. "I always wanted to go out on my terms. I didn't want to be a player that kind of held on, you know. Even now, though, my mind can see it but my body can't really back it up. When that was happening, I knew it was time.

"I've got two bone defects in my knees. Both have had operations, it's wear and tear. I've got a hamstring issue where my hamstring is screwed on with screws and mesh at the moment. Just countless stuff over the years, which every player has. But it kind of wears on you and I'd like to one day be able to play with my kids instead of walking around with a cane."

Redknapp claimed he is "struggling" to get a centre-back in to replace him but then said: "I'm sure we'll find someone. 'Arry has a way of weaving his magic."

Nelsen will hope he can now do a similar job with a Toronto outfit hoping to make the MLS playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

- APNZ

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