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

Football: Abby Erceg launches stinging attack at NZ Football

Abby Erceg. Photo / John Stone.
Abby Erceg. Photo / John Stone.

Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg has announced her retirement - and has launched a stinging broadside at New Zealand Football.

Erceg, who is New Zealand's most capped female player with 130 appearances, said it feels like the Ferns are "undervalued" by NZF and the lack of support will eventually drive other players out of the game.

"It is the environment," Erceg told Radio Sport. "The girls need to be able to live and not be worried about paying the bills or where their next meal is coming from. That is how a lot of the girls are living at the moment [and] it's not a high performance environment. It's not an environment that anyone should be living in really...especially with the amount of effort that we put in."

The 27-year-old Erceg will have her swansong at the Cyprus Cup next month, after more than a decade of representing the Silver Fern. She is an immensely proud individual and is disappointed to be bowing out in this fashion.

But she said she has no choice, as there has been no improvement in the Ferns' high performance environment, with too much expected from those in the national squad.

"I think we are a little undervalued," said Erceg. "[In my time] we have gone up eight Fifa ranking places and had consistent results against top nations like Japan and Brazil. We are not looking for thousands or even hundred of dollars a week. We are just looking for NZF to take away our expenses so we can do our job."

"The environment that we are in doesn't allow us to live. It doesn't allow us to survive. I've seen it for 12 years and not got paid. I'm not going to turn 30 and have nothing to show for the past 12 years of my life...People need to walk away from this game with something."

Erceg added that she is making a stand, in the hope that the situation changes for future generations. She is open to reversing her decision at some stage in the future, but only if there is genuine progress on the issue.

"If the situation does change I would love to represent my country again, there is nothing higher than that and that is what I have based my life around," said Erceg.

"I have said to [coach Tony Readings] if circumstances do change it wouldn't be out of the question to come back. But they are going to have to change; it can't be a promise of change. For now it will remain as retirement and hopefully I can get the change for the girls and the future generations."

New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin said he was disappointed to hear Erceg underline a perceived lack of funding as the primary reason for her retirement.

"The Ferns have gone from strength to strength in recent years and their funding leading into the Rio Olympic Games was the most it has ever been," said Martin.

"The team has had significant opportunities - and will do going forward - to be at their best and compete with the best teams in the world at pinnacle events."

In December, High Performance Sport New Zealand announced the Football Ferns secured a three year investment of $1.5m towards their 2019 FIFA World Cup and 2020 Olympic campaigns.

"For teams from this part of the world, as it is well-known, competing in international football is a huge challenge and there are financial realities," said Martin. "Investing in the Ferns is a priority for New Zealand Football as a result of the success they have had on the world stage and also the positive impact they have had on the women's game here in New Zealand."

The World No 19 Football Ferns leave for the Cyprus Cup on Thursday where they will play against Scotland, Austria and Korea Republic

- NZ Herald

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