When Ryan Nelsen looks back at the Premier League and sees the turmoil and farce that is going in at QPR he probably gives a sigh of relief that he managed to secure a more promising future in February when he signed on to become Toronto FC manager in the MLS.
Nelsen was one of the few players to shine before Christmas and Hoops boss Harry Redknapp said he hoped to keep the New Zealander until the end of the season, although the defender in the past admitted he had always had his mind set on management. After a successful four years at DC United between 2001 and 2005 and having already begun his coaching badges, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn player had decided he would return.
“I just love it. It’s where my head’s been for a few years now. You love everything about football but playing I didn’t really enjoy so much as coaching. When that was happening, I knew it was time.”
Seven games into the season and it has been a mixed start. Winning one game and drawing four means that Toronto FC are eighth in the Eastern Conference but at this stage qualifying for the Play Offs doesn’t seem out of reach and the owners at the BMO Fields will hope the team can reach the final stage for the first time.
Nelsen’s side have benefitted hugely from the acquisition of Welsh legend Robert Earnshaw from Cardiff City, after spending a period on loan at Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv, which has seen the striker start seven games and score five goals and is loving life in Canada.
“The standard is a lot higher than people give it credit for,” said Earnshaw. “People are starting to realise that, I think. That’s why you see us coming over, because we’ve seen that it’s a good league. It just takes a little time for people to notice. I’d definitely recommend it, 100 per cent. It can be tough as well but it’s an enjoyable league to play in”.
The new manager brought with him a number of players from Europe including former Tottenham player John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim from Nelsen’s most recent club QPR and a reprieve from the troubles at Portsmouth for Darel Russell.
Stars were rested recently for the club’s commitment in the Amway Canadian Championship yet Nelsen stayed committed to Toronto FC’s tradition of winning the competition with a 2-0 over Montreal Impact in the first game.
Getting into the CONCOCAF Champions League is the prize for overall victory in the ACC and it is another competition in which the Canadian club haven’t had much success in the past but the new manager will want to cover new ground now that he has his strongest side formed.
“It gives me confidence. I’m learning about the players as well. Every day I am learning about the players,” Nelsen added. “From what I have seen at training, I have been really impressed. It correlated into the game and it is impressive to see such young players play with the maturity that they did”.
Nelsen can reflect back on a successful year in which he left a failing club with seemingly passionless players and joined a new adventure across the water in which the New Zealander has formed a club which is coming into its own and showing the fight it has been missing in recent years.