It was notable, when explaining his decision to effectively end the international career of Tommy Smith, that All Whites coach Anthony Hudson arrived at acceptance rather than annoyance when summing up his overriding emotion.

"I understand it and respect it," Hudson said about Smith choosing club over country. "He has his career that he's very focused on and I totally understand it. His career is a priority, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that."

One motivation of such a response was about Hudson wanting to avoid a severe critique of a player whose character he was at pains to praise. But another was about a modern coach being well aware of the realities of modern sport.

Hudson knows all too well how the professional game works. He knows, from his experience corralling various All Whites around the globe, the push and pull every club player feels when the international coach comes calling.


And he clearly can empathise with a player who opts for his pay-masters over any perceived sense of national pride.

Smith put his future at Ipswich Town first, as the defender has done many times before, and Hudson cut him loose without any ill feeling.

Many fans of football in New Zealand will be much more aggrieved. They want their best players helping the national team take the first tentative steps on the path towards the 2018 World Cup.

But I'm with Hudson and Smith. One of the All Whites' heroes of the 2010 World Cup, Smith can quite frankly play for whomever he pleases. He owes us nothing, and that's hardly due to any past deeds the 26-year-old has in the bank from previously wearing the silver fern.

It's about his personal choice, any player's personal choice, to prioritise whatever he pleases. Setting aside Smith's affinity for this country - given he was born in Macclesfield - the idea an athlete should be duty-bound by a nebulous concept like patriotism is a stubborn holdover from another era.

It's an idea seeped into New Zealand sport, because of the behemoth that dominates its landscape.

In rugby, in this country, the mythical black jersey is the be all and end all, often, as critics will profess, to the game's detriment at other levels.

Players place the All Blacks at No 1 in their list of preferences, with distance second. As the number of athletes dodging a shot at gold in Rio will show, a chance to play for the World Cup winners is impossible to pass up.

It's the opposite for other codes, though. For footballers or basketballers, a club career comes first without too much heartbreak. Who's paying their wages is one thing, but money is only one factor.

Think about what holds more lure for an athlete like Smith: playing in front of few fans in Papua New Guinea with the hope of qualifying for the Confederations Cup and, maybe, one day, another World Cup, or securing his future in England's second tier with the aim of eventually reaching the Premier League?

Or someone like Steven Adams. Would he rather link up with Corey Webster at an Olympic qualifying tournament or finish off alley-oops from Russell Westbrook?

And, as a fan, Adams' decision to skip Tall Blacks duty makes sense. Why take even the tiniest chance his Thunder career could suffer?

Watching Adams these last couple of weeks has been far more thrilling than any Tall Blacks game.

Smith's exploits with Ipswich are hardly at a similar level, but what jersey he wears is entirely his prerogative.

While it may upset fans, that self-seeking aspect of professional sport is going nowhere. And nor should it.