Blackburn's Ryan Nelsen: New Zealand's Lifeline to the EPL

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IApril 6, 2009

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 11:   Ryan Nelsen of Blackburn Rovers stretches to block the shot on goal of Patrice Evra of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on November 11, 2007 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

New Zealand is about as far from the Premier League as you can get, thousands of miles across the ocean, it is to the English, a distant holiday spot or a place where some relatives moved to.

Interestingly enough it is also one of the only Commonwealth and former empire member countries that was able to garner a treaty with the power that was the British Empire in the last century.

This was something to do with the aforementioned distance and the tenacity of the inhabitants.

This tenacity is still witnessed in New Zealand sport, most notably displayed by the All Blacks, who are routinely the most powerful in world rugby before inexplicably imploding each time they play in the World Cup.

Luckily for those who follow the round ball game down here, the tenacity that I speak of is one of the sole reasons why we in New Zealand are lucky enough to have a representative playing in the heart of the defence of a team that is one of only four to have won the Premier League title.

Christchurch's Ryan Nelsen captains Blackburn Rovers from the centre of the defence. His performances since Mark Hughes nabbed him on a free transfer have been solid, occasionally skillful, and often tenacious.

A promising sportsman as a youth, he was a handy cricketer but decided that he would rather run around in the cold than stand around in the sun.

Looking back now surely he has made a fine decision.

After a promising start in Christchurch, he made a move to the United States and Greensboro College in North Carolina, and success there led to him to Stanford University in California, before he eventually gained a draft spot in the 2001 MLS superdraft.

Playing for DC United, Nelsen was soon captaining the side and was able to lead the team to the title in 2004.

It was in 2005 that he was noticed by Blackburn Rovers. Manager at the time, Mark Hughes, had played with a few decent centre-backs in his time and must have thought that the big antipodean might just have the goods.

Signed initially on an 18 month deal, he was immediately able to make an impact. Nelsen so impressed Hughes that he was offered a three year deal. His solid play had such a positive effect on the Rovers defence that it could only be thought of as a quite masterful piece of management.

Promoted to the captain's role under Mark Hughes, his consistent play is something that the Blackburn faithful can be confident of from week to week.

A talented defender who is totally committed, he is the type of player a team can base its play upon, safe in the knowledge they can attack with faith that the backline is well marshaled.

Most notably for New Zealanders, he is the only Kiwi face in perhaps the most popular league competition in world football and the most identifiable New Zealand footballer since the great Wynton Rufer.

Bringing a New Zealand presence to the Premier League is a beacon for Kiwi footballers and fans alike. He is a popular figure at the Lancashire outfit and this popularity follows him back home when he stars for the national team.

Blackburn and New Zealand will watch with interest in the coming weeks as the fight to stay alive in the Premier League continues.

The tenacity of Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers side was witnessed this weekend as they fought to a victory over Spurs.

Nelsen was in the thick of it, as always, and his fighting qualities will be pushed to the limit in the battle to come in the following weeks.

New Zealand fans of the Premier League will hope that he and his team are still there when the dust settles and the vultures start to pick through the unfortunate fallen.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.