Maybe it's selfishness, but surely Ryan Nelsen can play on for at least another 10 months. His country needs him.

The 35-year-old is set to quit English Premier League outfit Queens Park Rangers and be unveiled as Toronto FC coach tomorrow morning (NZT). Nelsen was always destined to be a coach, if he wanted to be one, but appears likely to call time on his remarkable playing career.

It would be incredibly bad timing for the All Whites. They should win the Oceania group in March before taking on the fourth-best side from Central and North America in November for a place at next year's World Cup.

The All Whites could still navigate their way to consecutive World Cups without the defender but that task would be infinitely more difficult.


Nelsen is the best player this country has produced since Oceania player of the 20th Century Wynton Rufer and, arguably, the most influential New Zealand player of all time. People notice when he plays and when he speaks.

He was immense in the two playoffs games against Bahrain to get the All Whites to the 2010 World Cup and even more brilliant in South Africa when New Zealand went undefeated - he played the last one against Paraguay with a troublesome stomach bug.

Suggestions Nelsen effectively coached the All Whites in South Africa might be a little uncharitable to Ricki Herbert but it's unquestionable the influence he had.

For people on the outside, the timing of his move into coaching doesn't seem right so close to another World Cup playoff. Surely someone of his standing would receive multiple offers to coach when he decided to retire.

But that is a big assumption. Players and coaches often talk about a move having to be right for them and their family and a move to Toronto might be the most attractive in Nelsen's eyes.

He will be reunited with president Kevin Payne, who was in charge at DC United during Nelsen's spell there from 2001 to 2005 and when they won the MLS title in 2004, and the backing of the Big Boss is one of the most important things for any manager. A move to Toronto would also be closer to his wife's family, who are in the US.

Maybe Nelsen just doesn't have the spark any more.

He is still playing good football and only recently had Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, the Spanish World Cup winner and a player bought from Liverpool for 50 million, in his pocket.

But sitting on the bottom of the Premier League table is draining and he might not be able to face another 12 months playing. He's had issues with injury throughout his career and maintaining fitness at 35 can be a struggle.

It would also be easy to suggest Nelsen doesn't want to tarnish the legacy he established at the 2010 World Cup by going to another - assuming New Zealand even qualify - but he doesn't come across as the type of individual who would care too much about that.

Instead, he might think the All Whites are well stocked at centre-back, with Winston Reid, Tommy Smith and Ben Sigmund, and Phoenix captain Andrew Durante will also qualify for New Zealand in March. But none have the experience, ability and aura of Nelsen, yet.

If Nelsen has played the last of his 49 internationals for the All Whites, it happened in his home town Christchurch in the 3-0 defeat of Tahiti. In some respects, it was an appropriate way to go out.

In so many more, however, it's not the way it was supposed to end.