By Greg Robertson
They say timing is everything in football – timing the ball when shooting on goal, the timing of a run or just knowing when to absorb pressure and turn defence into attack.
And when it comes to All White’s captain Ryan Nelsen, the right timing has been an integral part in his off-field career moves.
His latest shift, to English Premier League high-flyers Tottenham Hotspur, saw his timing bang on. A few days later and perhaps instead of joining Tottenham Hotspur we would have been talking about the beginning of a coaching stint.
His timing – and no doubt a tad of luck – has meant he’s not flying to America to join his old club DC United for a player/coach gig but instead he’s on a plane right now flying to London to train tomorrow with his nearly signed new club Spurs.
Before the Spurs' deal mushroomed from nowhere - among a flurry of others as the January transfer window ticked towards closing and Premier league teams did their last minute shopping – the informed word was that Nelsen was already departing Blackburn Rovers and heading back to America for the coaching role.
And Rovers manager Steve Kean must have known of Nelsen’s plans to use the top two inches on the training park a little more than his feet on the football field.
Following his side’s 2-0 loss to Newcastle today, pushing Rovers deeper into the relegation zone, Kean spoke of his defender’s plans.
"He was going to go back to America. He had an offer to go back there and be a player coach,” says Kean.
“He was very excited about it and then at the last minute Tottenham came in and offered him a short-term until the end of the season. He was a fabulous servant to the club."
Nelsen spent four years of his football career playing in the MSL, drafted fourth overall in the 2001 MLS Superdraft.
He then joined Rovers in England on a free transfer from United in 2005.
Now though, thanks to that super timing that has served him so well off and on the field, Nelsen is set to not only play Premiership football with a club at the top of the table, but possibly next season be the first New Zealand football player since Chris Killen at Celtic to play Champions League football. To qualify, Spurs have to finish in the top four of the EPL this season. Currently, they sit embedded in third, seven points clear of fourth spot and 10 points clear of fifth.
Nelsen’s deal with Spurs is until the end of this season, with an option to extend it for another year. So the chance of playing another one of the world’s biggest football tournaments is very real. As we already know, Nelsen captained the only unbeaten side in the last football World Cup.
Make no mistake, the move to Spurs is a massive career step for Nelsen and it must have been an easy decision for the 34-year-old to sideline any coaching ambitions.
In fact, Nelsen has been reported saying that the decision was a “no brainer”.
"It's obviously extremely exciting," Nelsen said. "It's not 100 per cent yet, I've just got a visa (change) to get over the line, but it's pretty much done,” he told Fairfax NZ.
"It's just an exciting opportunity at this stage of my career. I've loved my time at Blackburn, but it's something I just couldn't turn down."
It’s no secret that Spurs manager Harry Redknapp likes the big Kiwi.
In 2006, he tried to gain his services for Portsmouth. Yesterday he reinforced that to the media: "Ryan is a great competitor, a good sort to have around the place, I've always liked him," Redknapp told English newspapers.
Nelsen was released from his contract at Rovers after a meeting with officials, and it seems he has left the struggling club on excellent terms, already having best wishes sent to him from fans, teammates and the likes.
So out of nowhere, the news broke yesterday that Nelsen was off to Spurs – a team at the heights of the Premier League and European football competitions. The day before, he was an injured player signed with a club who was at the opposite end of the competition ladder and thinking about a career in coaching.
Nelsen’s timing, spot on – again.