When Anthony Hudson delivered a vision for the All Whites over the next four years, he talked of the need to show tenacity and fortitude, “We need a tougher mentality,” he declared. “We play good football, but we are too nice. Nice teams don’t win.”
Chris Wood’s 86th-minute equaliser against China in Nanchang on Friday opened a door for his side, digging deep to lead the way to World Cup qualification. Now the whole squad have to show they have the steel to walk the walk.
“I think there has already been a shift in mentality,” said Hudson, speaking ahead of the Thailand fixture on Tuesday. “To go to a place like China and play like we did, creating many very good chances – we were very unlucky not to win the game. What could have been better was our finishing on the night. I thought we showed great bravery in our approach.”
The All Whites meet Thailand in Korat in the early hours of tomorrow morning (NZT), with their hosts 30 places beneath them on world rankings. Thailand lost to China 3-0 away last month, but beat the Philippines 3-0 at home as they build-up towards the start of the AFF Suzuki Cup next week.
With the All Whites likely to face a World Cup qualification play-off with a nation from the Asian Football Confederation – should they qualify from their Oceania groups – they have to learn how to be more clinical.
“We haven’t won outside of the islands for a very long time,” said Hudson. “That has to change soon. Our young lads are gelling very well but they must adjust quickly to what we are doing.”
Indeed, the All Whites have not tasted victory for more than a year, drawing three and losing six our their last nine fixtures. Hudson is willing to look further afield in order to create a more competitive squad.
“I want to find the players who potentially slipped through the net, players based abroad who have family from New Zealand. There are plenty of them out there. There is a strong, exciting campaign coming up and I want to knock on as many doors as possible to try and find some players who can come and help us.
As a bright player himself, Hudson struggled to shine in a West Ham youth system that nurtured Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole. His playing career petered out before it really began, and after attempts to revive it in Holland and America, he soon swapped boots for coaching badges.
At the age of 27, Hudson became the youngest head coach in America, managing Real Maryland Monarchs before working with Tottenham Hotspur’s Reserve Team, Newport County and Bahrain.
It is not the common route into international management. But then Hudson is not a common manager, not another statistic among the 55 per cent who do not get a second chance after a first-job failure in England.
“As a young manager, one thing you haven’t got is time,” he said of the 19 games in charge of Newport County – indeed, he didn’t get close to the 16 months that first-time managers in English leagues average.
“You have to learn ways of buying an extra week, because as soon as you have a bad spell, the first thing everybody does is pull the experience card. Unless you have a big name as an ex-player, you have to get out there and study the game and make yourself into something a little bit different.”
Study the game Husdon did, and he continues to do so. “If you’re ambitious and you love what you do, you seek out people who are at the top of the game and you try and learn from them,” he explains. “I have certainly learned a lot from people in the game, whether it’s Jose Mourinho or a League Two manager.”
Like many immersed in World Cup fever in 2010, Hudson’s imagination was captured by the spirit of Ryan Nelson’s All Whites who went unbeaten in their three group stage matches, drawing with Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.
The Bahraini U23 side Hudson led to a second consecutive Gulf Cup of Nations final showed a similar mentality in winning the competition as underdogs in 2013. He then guided Bahrain’s senior side to qualification for the 2015 Asia Cup in Australia, a chance for him to shine on a competitive international stage. But Hudson chose instead to leave for New Zealand, exiling himself to relative anonymity and leaving the jury out to dry for another four years.
“It was a footballing move,” he points out. “I loved Bahrain. The Asia Cup was going to be the icing on the cake, but as a national team manager, I wanted to go to the World Cup. I just felt that New Zealand’s ambition matched mine.
“There are a lot of club jobs you dream of taking. And you might win 10 consecutive games with them, but you rarely get the time or the environment to put your plans in place.”
The New Zealand project is a think-piece. It is not going to happen overnight and it might never happen at all. But Hudson has a footballing brain. He has faith, he has patience. And unlike any other 33-year-old manager trying to get to the top, he has time.
“I just want to keep progressing and keep putting myself under pressure,” he reassures me. “I am not afraid of pressure, I enjoy the competitiveness of trying to succeed. I am ambitious, I want to be at the highest level, I think about being at a World Cup every day.
“For me, this is a long-term project with set milestones. All of these are opportunities for me to get my style of play across. It’s about having a vision, getting contact time with the team, and creating competition for players by developing our youth systems, ultimately turning us into a strong footballing nation.”
Hudson’s sentiments of footballing identity echo Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino who are running out of time to imprint their respective styles upon Manchester United and Spurs. Arguably one of the most successful managers in the game at club and international level, even Louis van Gaal is still learning.
If Hudson sticks to the international game, a lack of club-level experience will expose gaping chasms in his managerial knowledge. But Roy Hodgson is in charge of his fourth national team, on top of an endless list of clubs, and he still cannot get things right.
Now the beautiful game has arrived Down Under, the future of the All Whites and Anthony Hudson are inextricably tied together.