Generally, around the world, when people think of New Zealand and its sporting prowess, the All Blacks are generally mentioned in the same sentence, perhaps alongside the cricket boys too as they themselves have had a fair bit of success, although the recent crushing defeat to England will still be fresh in the minds.
But, perhaps somewhat under the radar, the New Zealand soccer team have also had a fair share of glory, although certainly not to the extent of the the rugby or cricket teams. They’ve appeared in World Cup’s, impressed in various qualifiers and have caused a few shocks along the way, with a number of Kiwi stars making the move across the pond to ply their trade in the big leagues in Europe as a result.
Of course home comforts would have been missed for these Kiwi stars as they go on their big European adventure, undoubtedly taking a few bars of Whittaker’s, their mobile phones to keep in touch via social media and, regardless of which slot you play, a few games to kill the time when it’s raining in England, plus their wives and families of course, but there’s no doubting the soccer climate abroad is completely different to here in New Zealand. Many players have succeeded though.
So, without further ado, we thought we’d highlight a few Kiwi soccer stars – past and present – who have made their mark abroad.
Smeltz, a striker who has also made a name for himself on this side of the pond for the likes of Wellington Phoenix, Perth Glory and Sydney, also had a fruitful time in England’s lower divisions with the likes of Mansfield Town, AFC Wimbledon and Halifax Town. It was at AFC Wimbledon though – a unique fan-owned club from south west London – where the striker really impressed, playing a huge part in their unique story. Scoring a number of goals during their historic rise through the non-league divisions, Smeltz cemented himself as a fan favourite before earning the move to a bigger side at the time, in a higher league, in Halifax Town. Smeltz also managed to feature in the World Cup with the All Whites and earned 58 caps with the national team.
We’re going back a few years now, but Wynton Rufer is certainly a worthy candidate. Born in Wellington, the lighting quick striker is arguably one of New Zealand’s greatest exports, where he had huge success in both Switzerland and in Germany, with Werder Bremen in particular. One of the best goal-getters around in the late 1980s and 1990s, Rufer might not be a name you’ve heard of before as he impressed at a time when Kiwi television completely ignored European football. He won the European Cup Winners Cup, the German premiership, the German Cup and finished top scorer in the Champions League. Rufer was also named Oceania’s player of the year three times and won Oceania’s player of the century. Ryan Nelsen
A club legend at Blackburn Rovers, Ryan Nelsen had a reputation as being one of the English Premier League’s toughest centre-backs and a real leader of men. After a successful career in MLS, he joined Blackburn Rovers and it was there where he really kicked on, before finishing off at big boys Tottenham and, finally, at QPR. After captaining the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup, Nelsen’s career came to an end a year or so after, but ask any football fans in England about him, especially Blackburn, and they’ll only have positive things to say.