Late last year All Whites captain Tommy Smith threatened to quit international football to focus on his club career.
Yesterday, he backed up his words with actions. Smith sent himself into international exile with a request not to be selected by New Zealand for the next 12 months so he can focus on helping club side Ipswich Town earn promotion into the English Premier League.
The All Whites squad to face Uzbekistan in Tashkent in September was named yesterday with Europe-based players Winston Reid and Chris Wood returning after missing the recent draw with South Africa.
But the announcement of a strong-looking side was overshadowed by Smith's decision, which All Whites assistant coach Neil Emblen said was about 'prioritising Tommy Smith'.
"I think he's pretty open to facing the music and outlining his reasons, but he's just prioritizing himself because he wants to achieve something that he hasn't done yet," Emblen said.
"I understand that every time he jumps on a plane, it puts his situation at Ipswich town under jeopardy. I get that. And that's what he is now doing with New Zealand. He is now saying 'I'm not prepared to do that and I'm going to put my All Whites chances at risk'. Someone like Michael Boxall could easily get established in his position, but he's aware of what he's doing."
Smith, who has 27 caps for the All Whites, made headlines late last year when the Herald on Sunday revealed he had threatened to retire from international football over a club vs country clash ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico.
"I have sympathy for it, but I also don't because there are players who have had long successful international careers both in New Zealand and Australia who have been able to find the balance between both," Emblen said.
"How the rest of the players feel about it will be a telling factor. Is there resentment in the group or anything like that because that could change the dynamic. I think there will be some players who get wound up by it and others who won't mind.
"I don't think the relationship is dead and buried by any means, he said 'it's not over unless you say it's over'."
Smith was born in England but lived in New Zealand as a youngster and has dual citizenship. He played for England at U17 level, and only committed to the All Whites at senior level after they had qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
He became the youngest captain in All Whites history after leading the team in a 2-2 draw versus El Salvador in May 2012, but despite that honour, has been relatively lukewarm on international football ever since.
Reid is included in the squad for the first time since injury ruled the West Ham United defender out of the 2013 FIFA World Cup intercontinental playoff against Mexico.
Kosta Barbarouses who missed the South Africa visit through injury also returns, while Sydney FC striker Shane Smeltz has been left out after sustaining a series of niggles in pre season training.
All Whites squad
Glen Moss (28/0 - Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Tamati Williams (1/0 - Glenfield Rovers/NZ)
Michael Boxall (9/0 - Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Andrew Durante (8/0 - Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Winston Reid (17/1 - West Ham Utd/ENG)
Storm Roux (3/0 - Central Coast Mariners/AUS)
Ben Sigmund (32/2 - Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Bill Tuiloma (4/0 - Olympique Marseille/FRA)
Cameron Howieson (8/0 - Burnley FC/ENG)
Chris James (18/2 - CS Sedan Ardennes/FRA)
Michael McGlinchey (27/3 - Central Coast Mariners/AUS)
Tim Payne (10/2 - unattached)
Ryan Thomas (2/0 - PEC Zwolle/HOL)
Kosta Barbarouses (25/2 - Melbourne Victory/AUS)
Tyler Boyd (2/0- Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Jeremy Brockie (43/0 - Wellington Phoenix/NZ)
Marco Rojas (18/0 - VfB Stuttgart/GER)
Chris Wood (34/12 - Leicester City/ENG)