For a group of people named after a flightless bird, New Zealand's footballers certainly get around. Blackburn, West Brom and West Ham are all benefiting from the services of 'Kiwi's but they aren't alone. Fernando Battaglia looks at migration patterns.
Any discussion of Kiwi footballers playing abroad is going to be a short one. New Zealand rarely exports their top players farther than Australia, though with some noteworthy examples such as 80’s Player of the Decade Wynton Rufer and current Blackburn Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen.
In fact, the list of Kiwis in the Premier League has traditionally been limited to Nelsen. This season however, there is one other New Zealander in a Premier League squad who got there thanks to his heroics in the FIFA World Cup; defender Winston Reid.
The 21-year-old played for the first time for New Zealand in the World Cup warm-up matches after switching nationality, having previously played for the U-21 Denmark side. He moved from New Zealand to Denmark when he was 11 and has been plying his trade for FC Midtjylland.
Reid started the Hammers' first match of the season (a 0-3 loss to Aston Villa) and alongside Nelsen could give New Zealand two bedrocks for their qualification efforts for the 2014 World Cup.
Interestingly enough, Reid is one of just a few All Whites who have Maori heritage, not that you'll see him doing a haka anytime soon.
Nelsen is once again at the heart of the Blackburn defence. Hopefully he'll have a mostly injury-free season. He missed 10 league matches through injury in 2009-10, though he managed to score 4 times, his highest tally in the Premier League. Actually, he'd only scored one other goal in his Premier League career, in 2008. If he stays healthy, we're likely to see him make his 200th appearance for Blackburn this season. He's already listed on every football record book in New Zealand. At 32, and with a not-too-positive injury history behind him, you have to question how much longer he can (or wants) to keep going. Here's hoping he'll make it to Brazil in 2014, his dedication and intelligence on the pitch would be impossible to replace.
One interesting fact here: the highest paid professional athletes from New Zealand are Nelsen and Indy Racing Champion Scott Dixon. And there's a long way to go from there to the top rugby earners.
There is a third Kiwi in the Premier League this season, with forward Chris Wood making the jump from the Championship along with his club West Bromwich Albion. He made 18 appearances for them last season, albeit scoring only once. Hopefully he will get some appearances as a sub this season but don't expect to see too much from the 18-year-old just yet. At least he should qualify in the future as a "home-grown" player in the Premier League as he is starting his third season with West Brom now.
Defender Tommy Smith will be the lone Kiwi representative in the English Championship with Ipswich Town. The 20-year-old defender made some strong appearances for Roy Keane's side and already qualifies as "home-grown" in the UK, possibly because he was actually born in Macclesfield and came up through the ranks at Ipswich. He resided in New Zealand as a child before returning to the UK and is thus eligible for both, fortunately for the All Whites. (Hmm, there's a few 15-year-old Argentine creative midfielders I could recommend spend some time here). Smith spent the second half of last season on loan at Brentford and started off this season with Ipswich in fine form, scoring their first goal of the season on their way to a 3-1 victory over promotion favorites Middlesbrough.
In League One, you'll find striker Rory Fallon, who received several offers to stay in the Championship when his club Plymouth Argyle were relegated. He turned them all down saying God had told him to stay at Plymouth. I had no idea that the supreme being was a fan of the Pilgrims. That pretty much tosses the concept of omniscience out the window, doesn't it? Nevertheless, Fallon is a savvy performer who knows how to use his height and strength to get into a scoring position. Argyle fans will be happy that he's staying and he could be their top scorer this season (he was joint second with 5 in 2009-10).
THE REST OF THE WORLD
Major League Soccer has been another common destination for Kiwis. Nelsen and Simon Elliott played there before joining teams in the Premier League. Elliott returned to play for the San Jose Earthquakes but finds himself without a team this season, despite having a good World Cup. Don't be too surprised to see him pop up with the Wellington Phoenix at some point this season.
Duncan Oughton has been with Columbus Crew for a few years now, but didn't make the FIFA World Cup squad. His playing time with the Crew has been sporadic the last few years and he's only made three appearances so far this season.
Andy Boyens has seen even less playing time with New York Red Bulls, having made no appearances. At this rate, and the way the Red Bulls are signing "marquee" players, I have a hard time seeing him on the pitch for them this season.
Midfielder Jeremy Christie is also in the US, albeit playing for USSF Division 2 side FC Tampa Bay.
The Chinese Super League, and more specifically Shenzen Ruby FC, have been the most active in terms of recruiting Kiwis post-World Cup bringing in veteran defender Ivan Vicelich and striker Chris Killen. Vicelich's move is quite understandable being on the wrong side of 30 and looking for one final large pay check. I'm a bit surprised that Killen moved there though. He was struggling to find playing time with Middlesbrough in the Championship last season after mixed success in previous spells with Celtic and Norwich City, but this move seems to signal a move away from the UK. Is there any going back after that? He was released outright by Middlesbrough after scoring 3 goals in 17 appearances. Killen is another player I wouldn't be surprised to see appear in the A-League sooner rather than later, though it's hard seeing the Phoenix being able to afford him.
BACK HOME DOWN UNDER
As I mentioned before, there are several Kiwis playing for A-League clubs, including forward Shane Smeltz, goalkeeper Glen Moss (both with Gold Coast United), midfielder Costa Barbarouses (Brisbane Roar), forward Jeremy Brockie (Newcastle Jets) and midfielder Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners, played with Motherwell on loan last season).
Interestingly, McGlinchey came up through the ranks at Celtic and represented Scotland at U-17 and U-21 levels. While at Celtic he was convinced by then-manager Martin O'Neill not to sign a youth contract with Manchester United to remain at Celtic. A decision that he must now surely regret, at least a little bit (http://bit.ly/br0OO5).
If anyone out there knows if Chris James is still active somewhere (last seen playing with Barnet last season) or Kris Bright (Shrewsbury Town), please let me know. That goes for any other Kiwis I might've missed.
Fernando will be writing regularly for IBWM, but if you'd like to read more from him, please visit his blog, which is rather good....as you might suspect!