Soccer: Vicelich calls time on international career

By Steven Holloway

Ivan Vicelich. Photo / Greg Bowker/
Ivan Vicelich. Photo / Greg Bowker/

Ivan Vicelich, the most-capped player in All Whites history, has retired from international football.

And while it's the second time he's made such a call - this time he means it.

Vicelich yesterday brought down the curtain on an international career spanning 18 years when he announced the time was right to step aside.

The 37-year-old had previously announced his retirement in 2008 after returning home from eight seasons of professional football in Holland, but then answered an SOS from former All Whites coach in May 2009 and stuck around until the World Cup playoffs with Mexico late last year.

Vicelich said the decision to retire crystalised after "a few dining room table discussions" with family, though he still plans to continue playing with ASB Premiership leaders Auckland City.

"It's been an honour to have represented my country and I never dreamed it would turn out having appeared in the most games as an All White," Vicelich said. "It's not something you think about, you dream about it.

"It's been a privilege and an honour every moment I've pulled on the shirt. It's a sad time knowing that I won't be doing it again but I can now move forward."

Vicelich earned 88 'A' international caps and made 98 All Whites appearances in total, scoring 7 goals (6 in 'A' internationals).

Though former All White greats Steve Sumner and Brian Turner played over 100 games ,many of their matches were not categorised as A internationals, with Vicelich regarded as the most fully capped player.

When Vicelich first turned out the All Whites - as an 18-year-old - he instantly became the poster boy for the code. With his flapping long hair, and fresh youthful image, Vicelich was immediately thrust onto posters, programme covers and match advertising despite being the most junior member of the squad.

He quickly established himself as a player of great poise and judgement, initially as a defensive back-up to players such as Rodger Gray, Danny Hay, and Perry Cotton and later as a cultured defensive midfielder.

Vicelich regarded qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as the standout moment of his time with the All Whites, along with the side's appearance at the Confederations Cup in Mexico in 1999.

"The Bahrain game in Wellington and the trip to the World Cup was a dream come true for me and the Confederations Cup in Mexico was a great time being the first big tournament we'd played in since 1982 [FIFA World Cup in Spain].

"There have been a lot of tours and special moments with guys I've played with and the life-long friendships I've formed are something I'll cherish."

New Zealand Football High Performance Manager Fred de Jong hailed Vicelich's achievements.

"It is fitting that Ivan retires from international football having achieved the most number of caps in the history of the All Whites," de Jong said.

"That remarkable accomplishment is testament to not only Ivan's outstanding talent, but also his personal drive and commitment to be the best he could be over a prolonged period of time.

"His career is a shining example to our next generation of players of what it takes on and off the field to make it in the extremely tough world of high level international sport."

Vicelich reckons the game is on a far firmer footing than when he first broke into the senior international arena.

"The game is improving and the ASB Premiership is improving. Players are now coming through there, moving on and coming through the Phoenix, so the platform is there.

"Players coming through now are technically better than they were in the past and when I first started, every player except Wynton Rufer was in New Zealand. Now 90 percent of the squad are playing professionally; that's certainly helping the development of the All Whites."

Vicelich was a vital cog in Ricki Herbert's plans in 2009 with his versatility allowing him to make various tactical adjustments, particularly as cover when Ryan Nelsen was injured.

Vicelich then starred at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, with top performances in draws with Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay as the All Whites were eliminated at the group stage despite being the only undefeated team at the tournament.

He also represented the All Whites with distinction at three FIFA Confederations Cups in Mexico in 1999, France in 2003 and South Africa in 2009.

Vicelich now turns his attention to Auckland City's campaign as the ASB Premiership leaders target league and OFC Champions League success once again.

"We've got a couple of goals with the ASB Premiership and OFC Champions League so I'm focused on that as we continue to look to do well and win those titles."

Part of his role with Auckland City has the All Whites legend providing coaching input, a side of the game Vicelich says might be explored further as time goes on.

"It's something I've enjoyed and it's certainly a possible future pathway, it's definitely something I've thought about."

Ivan Vicelich - All Whites career record
Appearances/Goals

88 'A' International caps
98 All Whites appearances
7 goals (6 in 'A' internationals)

New Zealand representative honours:
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa
2003 FIFA Confederations Cup France
1999 FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico
New Zealand U-17
New Zealand U-20
New Zealand U-23

Awards
OFC Footballer of the Year 2009
Oceania All Stars XI 2008
Auckland Sportsman of the Year 2010
Auckland Overall Sporting Excellence Award 2010
New Zealand International Player of the Year 2002
New Zealand Young Player of the Year 1994
Jack Batty Memorial Trophy 1994

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