Andrew Durante: Success now, next, everywhere

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Given England has long been the elder sibling you despise just a little bit, it’s a wonder we Australians idolise the English Premier League so greatly. Presumably it’s because, while you would never mention it to them, matching their achievements would mean the ultimate success. Hence the EPL is an idyllic, unconquered frontier for Aussie footballers.

Credit: Wellington Phoenix

New Zealand on the other hand is the hopeful younger sibling. They can challenge, sure, but generally you keep them in line – even inviting your older mate, say, Vince Grella, over to do so. They’re talented though: heck, we saw a bit of ourselves in their 2010 World Cup campaign.

In footballing terms, one is accomplished while the other has just signed a professional contract.

But far from being a reclusive, moody middle child, Andrew Durante has mastered his own career path, taken a chance, and is soon to reap handsome rewards.

“I always wanted to play overseas but I never thought I would end up in New Zealand,” the Wellington Phoenix captain said of his path to the Kiwi capital.

Success has rarely been far away for the 30-year-old central-defender.

In his first season as a professional with Sydney Olympic, the club won the National Soccer League. In 2008, he was named Joe Marston Medallist in Newcastle Jets’ Grand Final win over F3 rivals Central Coast. Then, in leaving Newcastle for Wellington, he was immediately named Phoenix captain for their second A-League season. It’s a position the Australian has held since.

“I just felt it was right at the time and just wanted to try and help the team. They were struggling before I got there and I thought I could make a difference.

“I’ve always said, in football, you want to challenge yourself and go to the next challenge, and I’d just won the championship with Newcastle and I thought it was probably a good time to go on to the next chapter of my career.”

Of course, international moves are not ones normally made on a whim.

“It was a huge decision. It wasn’t made very easily but I had a girlfriend at the time who said she would follow me anywhere, which was handy, and she has become my wife. We’ve got a little girl now which has been really good.

“My wife’s family is from Newcastle, I’ve got my family in Sydney. We don’t get to see them enough – we obviously miss out on birthdays and occasions; Christmas time is always a hard one to miss but I guess that’s part of football. I’ve got a pretty good job so you can’t really complain about it too much.”

That pretty good job is set to improve. March will mark Durante’s international eligibility for New Zealand having joined Ricki Herbert’s Wellington in 2008. But unlike the kit palette Durante has signalled his intention to don, a switch of allegiances is bound to involve some grey area.

Born and bred in Sydney, he came within a substitution of representing Australia in 2010 when called into Pim Verbeek’s squad for an Asian Cup qualifier.

“I don’t know until I actually do pull on that shirt how I’ll feel but I do know that I’ve got really close ties with the country. I thought long and hard about changing allegiances to New Zealand and I’ve had a lot of support for it which has made it a little bit easier.

“When I do put the jersey on I’m sure I’m going to be extremely proud to represent the country that has given me a lot in footballing terms, my daughter was born there and we have property over in New Zealand so it feels like home and I’m looking forward to that day coming soon.

“It’s a really big carrot for me to help New Zealand… to potentially go and play in a World Cup again. That’s what drives me – to really play at the highest level, and if Ricki feels I’ve got something to offer then fantastic.”

England-based pair Winston Reid and Tommy Smith appear well-positioned to form a long-term partnership in the All Whites defence, meaning the potential recruitment of Durante is not borne of quick-fix desperation. Rather, it is owing to the determination and pure intentions of an individual who, as leader of Wellington, should have little trouble commanding respect. While he says Herbert is “pretty keen for it all to happen,” the two have not spoken of him as a direct replacement for the legendary Ryan Nelsen.

“No, we haven’t spoken about that. Obviously it was really big news over in New Zealand, Ryan retiring.

“He’s been a fantastic servant, he’s played in the Premier League for a long time and he’s captained his country exceptionally well and I don’t even have an international cap to my name yet.

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Look, it’s flattering that people can see that type of role for me but I think it’s a little bit unfair to say I’m the next Ryan Nelsen. But, if Ricki needs me to play in the type of role that Ryan has, then I feel I’m up for it and hopefully I would do well.”

Before any real talk of World Cups can materialise, however, Durante only wants to focus only on the club he captains, a role that should guarantee respect as an outsider in the national team.

A-League duties will keep his mind occupied ahead of the proposed All Whites switch as the side struggles to replicate successive finals appearances. Though while performances aren’t matching owner Gareth Morgan’s reported wishes, it is perhaps relief enough for those at the club to even ponder such possibilities, knowing the stress it has previously endured.

“Terry [Serepisos] was a fantastic owner and a really passionate guy who obviously came under quite a bit of financial issues. It was sad to see him go, the players were really close with him but the new owners have stepped in with financial security and a vision for the football club to develop youngsters and academies which is fantastic.

“That’s going to be a great future for the club and it helps the players as well knowing the club is very stable, and hopefully that attracts other players from other clubs and countries knowing that the club is financially stable.”

Success, then, is the goal at the earliest opportunity, much like it has been in the past, before it is chased on the next level.

“It’d be the icing on the cake to win something over here. I’ve been here for five years now and we’ve been pretty close to making Grand Finals but haven’t quite been there. Before I end my time here I’d love to win a Championship.”

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