Toronto’s abysmal season last year and the gruelling post season interview between the media and head coach Paul Mariner, eventually led to his dismissal. Toronto need a fresh approach after more than a few disappointing seasons so have turned to QPR centre back Ryan Nelsen as the man to lead this. The 35-year-old New Zealand captain has had a distinguished career which has seen him take the field for Christchurch United, DC United, Blackburn, Tottenham and now Queens Park Rangers. But his new job, as Head coach of Toronto FC will end his playing days and begin what is sure to be a long career in football management. Nelsen, capped 49 times for his country, has a wealth of experience that he will undoubtedly bring to the role, once he actually starts. The problem is that Nelsen is under contract with QPR until this summer with the club keen for him to see out the term but with the new MLS season starting in March and pre season a month before, Toronto may be managerless for the first four months of the season. A farce is not quite what people are calling it, but its close.
Nelsen is tired. He has played in England’s top division for the last seven years and is now running on empty. With knees and ankles like glass, as Nelsoe himself describes it, it would appear that the time has come for the defender to hang up his boots. However he is still performing, week in, week out and is the main reason why QPR still have a chance of surviving a relegation dog fight. Manager Harry Redknapp knows this, hence why his reluctance to release the player to Toronto in this January transfer window. With little or no cash available to spend by Harry, assuming because Mark Hughes spent more than his share of it in the summer, finding a capable replacement for Nelsen may be tricky. Israeli Tal Ben Haim has arrived on a short-term contract to provide cover so could fill the slot left by Nelsen. Redknapp knows Ben Haim well from his time as Portsmouth boss so will be comfortable turning to the 30-year-old but he is not even half the leader than Nelsen is, who generals the QPR back line as if his life depended on it.
For QPR it’s a sad state of affairs that your best defender is a soon to be retired 35-year-old. Nothing against Nelsen or older players as such but looking at the money Hughes invested, especially in his back line, you have to wonder what has gone wrong. Along with Nelsen, Hughes brought in Portuguese right back Jose Bosingwa (Free) , centre back Stephane Mbia (£4.5million) and left back Fabio (loan deal), as well as two experienced goalkeepers in England’s Rob Green and Brazil’s Julio Cesar. All are internationally capped players (granted Fabio only has two caps and is still 22) and most arrived for a considerable fee but yet are unable to form an effective back line between them or the players who were already at QPR – Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Armand Traoré and Luke Young. For Nelsen, who this season should be enjoying one of his last full seasons as a professional, it’s a sad state of affairs that Redknapp has no option but to use him in every game, despite his tiring legs.
For the New Zealand legend, who captain his side to their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance in 2010, the next chapter of his career looks to be happening back across the pond in the MLS, where his career began. He is due to meet with Redknapp and QPR owner Tony Fernandes to plead for his release at the end of the January transfer window, but this is unlikely to happen unless QPR can find a replacement. West Brom’s Swedish defender Jonas Olsson is a likely option whilst Tottenham defenders William Gallas and Michael Dawson are rumoured to be targets as well, mainly as the duo are known to Redknapp and played for him at Spurs. Gallas will be the more likely of the two to join as either no fee or a minimal fee would be required for the experienced 35-year-old French defender. Dawson would be the preferred option but Tottenham will be looking for a fee around £6million before they let the player leave White Hart Lane. Regardless of who arrives, Redknapp will want to reach a conclusion to the Nelsen decision soon as he holds too much respect for the player to drag it on and delay the inevitable.
For Toronto FC new club President Kevin Payne (who worked with Nelsen at DC United) the waiting game is now on, with a slim chance that his new head coach will arrive before pre season begins in late January. There is more chance of Nelson being in place by the season opener against Vancouver Whitecaps on March 2nd but there is also a chance that he won’t take up the job until Toronto’s home game against Montreal Impact on July 3rd, some 16 games into the 34 game season. Payne will be praying that QPR backs down and releases the player so he can move to Canada and start the next phase of his life. Payne will also know that hiring Nelsen is a gamble, regardless of the start date as he has no coaching licences and has not managed until now. If Nelsen can turn around Toronto’s fortunes and lead them to a reasonable;e finish in the Eastern conference and potentially a CONCAF Champions League place then his lack of paperwork or experience will be forgotten. If he can’t and Toronto replicate the run that they showed this year, it may not be only Nelson that is looking for pastures new once again.