|Hughes seeks defensive steel with Nelsen reunion|
Mon 18th Jun 2012 19:10 by Clive Whittingham
For the second time in his managerial career Mark Hughes has turned to New Zealand international captain Ryan Nelsen to add experience and leadership to his backline.
New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen, aged 34, arrives at QPR on a one year deal having been released on a free at the end of last season by Tottenham Hotspur. The move comes the best part of a decade since Nelsen was previously linked with a move to Loftus Road during his time at DC United.
It was there in Major League Soccer that he forged his reputation having started his career in his homeland with Christchurch United. Ultimately it was Mark Hughes who finally took the plunge and brought him to the UK after he’d made the MLS Team of the Season two years in a row. He signed a three year deal with Hughes’ Blackburn Rovers side although he had initially been refused a work permit because of New Zealand’s low world ranking.
Despite struggles with a hamstring injury Nelsen became a fixture at the heart of the Rovers defence, captaining the side and signing a five year contract in 2007. Rovers finished sixth and reached the UEFA Cup under Hughes but things turned sour for the club and Nelsen following the takeover by the Indian based Venkys group in 2011. Nelsen initially signed a contract extension through to 2013 but was demoted from skipper by manager Steve Kean in favour of Chris Samba and then suffered a bad knee injury that ended his 2010/11 prematurely and hungover into the campaign just gone where he was replaced in the team by Scott Dann.
Harry Redknapp, who had tried to sign Nelsen for Portsmouth back in 2006, took him to Spurs on a free transfer in January this year to cover for injuries to Michael Dawson and Ledley King but his three starts all came in the FA Cup and he only managed five substitute outings in the Premier League. His Blackburn career included 206 appearances and eight goals from centre half.
He has 45 caps for New Zealand and skippered them to their first ever point in a World Cup Finals when they drew 0-0 with Paraguay in the 2010 tournament in South Africa. He has now signed for Hughes for a second time in his career, penning a one year contract at Loftus Road.
"I have obviously got a lot of history with the Manager and that was a massive draw for me. I like his winning attitude. He and all his staff just have an absolute desire to win, and that's what the Premier League is all about. If you haven't got that, you won't be successful.” - Ryan Nelsen
“I know what he is all about and what he can offer us, both on and off the pitch. Ryan has got great experience in the Premier League and that is something our squad is lacking a little bit at present. He's a fantastic professional with a great work ethic and it will benefit the younger lads in the group to see how he goes about his work." -Mark Hughes
Assuming he passed a rigorous medical, I’m pretty happy with this signing. Like Hill, pace was never a big part of his game so I don't think his age is a huge factor. Great pro with an excellent attitude, leadership qualities and solid Premiership pedigree. Better than Hall and Gabbidon and only a one year deal, so I can't see the downside.” -adhoc_QPR
“Ryan Nelsen signed. Andrew Johnson linked. Why am I so under whelmed? Are we trying to win the oldest squad award in the Guinness Book of Records, or the best squad to enter the last chance saloon?” -HeadHoops
When I was writing up the end of season assessment on each player, there was a recurring theme in the analysis of the defence. When thinking about Anton Ferdinand, Nedum Onuoha and others the lack of leadership and a strong voice at the heart of the backline came up time and again. Clint Hill became important to us last season not only for his heading ability and skill as a defender but also because of his experience and leadership skills. A defence that hadn’t kept a clean sheet for 25 matches suddenly kept three in six matches at the end of the year once Clint Hill had been installed at centre half and the back four left to its own devices without the constant chopping and changing that had become a theme for the previous seven months.
I think when Hughes first arrived he believed his best defence had Onuoha and Ferdinand together in the middle with Luke Young at right back and Taye Taiwo on the left. This backline just didn’t impress, with the two centre backs looking particularly vulnerable. Onuoha hadn’t played any first team football at all for seven months so to be expected to come into a struggling team in January and be up to speed immediately was unrealistic but the problems were in the organisation and communication rather than match fitness and sharpness. We were so much better when he moved to the right and Hill came in to organise everybody, including Ferdinand who has always been a player that needs to be led rather than a leader himself.
Ryan Nelsen, who almost signed for QPR more than a decade ago when he first came to this country from Major League Soccer, has been a rock solid Premiership performer for years at Blackburn Rovers and, more importantly, he’s what the pundits like to call a ‘leader of men’. He’s the captain of his country New Zealand and he guided that side to the South African World Cup two years ago. So in that respect he’s exactly what QPR need, and having released Danny Gabbidon and Fitz Hall this summer the R’s are in need of extra bodies in the centre back position regardless of their age and experience.
The problem with this signing is an obvious one – Nelsen is now 34 years old and his ability, influence and speed (which was never that quick in the first place) have been on the wane for some time now. Spurs, beset by injuries to Michael Dawson and Ledley King’s knee problems, picked Nelsen up from Blackburn last January, making the most of the farcical situation at Rovers to pick off their most experienced defender for next to nothing. But despite their absentees and poor form they rarely found a spot for him in their team, and every single Spurs fan I speak to says the word “slow” before anything else when it comes to Nelsen. Ale Faurlin, Clint Hill and Heidar Helguson dispelled the myth that you absolutely have to be quick to succeed in the modern day Premier League but it does help, and Nelsen’s super-tanker sized turning circle and Bob Malcolm-like speed off the mark are a concern.
It’s not the most inspiring signing QPR have ever made, but it’s a very experienced Premiership defender and, more importantly, captain and leader figure for the heat of the defence on a free transfer so I suspect it will turn out to be a long way from the worst.
Pictures – Action Images