Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Football: All Whites welcome back Tommy Smith, again

All Whites defender Tommy Smith. Photo / Photosport
All Whites defender Tommy Smith. Photo / Photosport

The All Whites' welcome mat has been rolled out for footballer Tommy Smith - again.

Smith has played just twice for the All Whites over the past three years, but the Ipswich defender looks set to be part of the Confederations Cup squad next year, as well as the qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Today, New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson announced Smith will again be considered for national selection, after saying a few months ago that the door was closed on the former captain.

The latest decision wasn't a surprise, as Hudson had telegraphed last month that he was open to a Smith return, "in the best interests of the team".

But the move continues a remarkable sequence of events, where Smith's commitment to the cause has fluctuated massively. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, Smith even threatened to retire from international football unless he was allowed to play for his club the weekend before the match at the Azteca Stadium.

When New Zealand Football wouldn't budge, Smith eventually relented and was one of the better performers in the 9-3 aggregate loss.

Smith missed the next three fixtures, before announcing in August 2014 that he was taking a 12-month break from the All Whites to focus on club football. That changed a few months later, when he decided to return after a coffee and a chat with Hudson had him "excited about the programme". He turned out against China and Thailand in November 2014, before missing the next three international windows. After an absence of almost 18 months, Hudson lost patience before the Nations Cup.

Hudson's recent change of heart came after Smith "reached out" to him after the Nations Cup.

Hudson has also consulted with six senior All Whites, including Winston Reid, Chris Wood, Michael Boxall and Michael McGlinchey.

"Winston said he trusts my judgment on it and the team are behind it," said Hudson. "Yes, Tommy has done things in the past that people will see as not being right towards the national team. The popular decision would be to say 'no I've stick by my decision, I'm not having you back'. However, since I said what I said, I've had a quality player, who has come to me, accepted what has happened and held his hands up and told me he wants to help get us to Russia. It would be wrong for me not to consider it."

Smith said today he was "gutted" when Hudson closed the door in May and has fully apologised for his lack of communication in the last few months. Smith hoped that the dramas of the past few years would be "water under the bridge" with his teammates, and that he will endeavour to uphold the "values and expectations of a national team player".

- NZ Herald

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