Former Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg could make a sensational return to the international game.

Erceg, New Zealand's most capped female player with 130 appearances, shocked the football community in February when she announced her sudden retirement.

She had been the defensive rock of the Ferns for a decade, recognised as their most important player and one of the best defenders in the world.

In terms of impact, her departure at the age of only 27 was compared to a scenario of Richie McCaw walking away a few years before the 2015 Rugby World Cup.


"It's a watershed moment," former Ferns captain Maia Jackman said. "She is huge for that team. It's a bit like if Richie McCaw had given it away four or five years ago. I'd imagine her teammates are devastated."

At the time Erceg, who had competed at three World Cups, launched a stinging broadside at New Zealand Football, saying that the Ferns were "undervalued" by the national body.

"[In my time] we have gone up eight Fifa ranking places and had consistent results against top nations like Japan and Brazil," said Erceg.

"We are not looking for thousands or even hundreds 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."

However, the Herald on Sunday understands that Erceg, who is plying her trade with the North Carolina Courage in the United States, could return to the Ferns' environment as early as next year.

NZF are searching for a new Ferns coach, after the surprise resignation of long-time mentor Tony Readings last month.

Readings had earned respect over his extended tenure (six years), but some senior players had grown frustrated with aspects of his approach in the latter stages of his stint.

It is believed Erceg would enjoy the challenge of a fresh start and new direction.

Her return is unlikely to cause any issues in the dressing room — as the vast majority of the squad backed her stance at the time — and the new Ferns coach, whoever that is, would surely welcome back her experience and ability to the fold.

The 28-year-old Erceg skippered the Western New York Flash to the National Women's Soccer League title in 2016 and this year won the National Women's Soccer League Shield with the Courage.

There was bad blood between Erceg and NZF over the nature of her retirement — and her public pronouncements — but that is surely something that can be repaired.

The Fern's next matches are set to be at the Cyprus Cup in February and March, and it is expected the new coach will be in place by then.