Queens Park Rangers defender Ryan Nelsen will leave the English Premier League’s bottom team to become head coach of Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, although he’ll stay with QPR in the short term as it battles relegation.
The 35-year-old New Zealander’s planned move was announced at a press conference in Toronto today. He replaces former England player Paul Mariner at the Reds, which finished last in the MLS Eastern Conference in 2012.
“From the first time I met Ryan I was incredibly impressed by his leadership qualities,” Toronto’s president and general manager Kevin Payne told reporters. “I’m absolutely thrilled he’s agreed to join Toronto FC. I have every confidence he will turn things around.”
Nelsen said he’ll stay at QPR for the time being as he needs to sort out details about his departure and doesn’t want to let the club down. He couldn’t give an exact date for his departure. The MLS season begins in March.
“I’m under contract at QPR at the moment and they’re in a difficult situation,” Nelsen said, adding that he had a commitment to QPR manager Harry Redknapp and club owner Tony Fernandes. ``I have an obligation to QPR, I really want QPR to stay up. Harry and Tony are fantastic people. We’ll be talking when I get back. If we can get five straight wins that would be perfect.”
Vice-captain Nelsen’s departure will be a blow for QPR, which he joined from Tottenham last June on a one-year contract. He’s made 18 league appearances and become a favorite of the fans of the west London team, which has just two wins from 21 league games.
“I’m extremely excited to be here, it’s a privilege. It’s a challenge I just can’t wait for,” Nelsen said. “For me TFC is a shining light in passion and loyalty and the way the club is run. We’ll make my team a very combative team, they’ll never give up.”
Redknapp is disappointed to lose Nelsen, who’s become a key player this season.
“He has been fantastic, I took him to Tottenham last year from Blackburn,” Redknapp told reporters last weekend. “He’s one of the best pros I’ve ever met in my life, a fantastic player, a great trainer, a leader. To lose him would be a massive blow for us.”
Nelsen captained his country at the 2010 World Cup as well as at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. He spent seven years at Blackburn Rovers, having previously been at Christchurch United and MLS team DC United. Payne was an executive at DC during Nelsen’s time there.