Football Ferns legend claims Abby Erceg wasn’t enjoying playing for New Zealand

Football Ferns legend Maia Jackman is saddened New Zealand will be without arguably their best player when the Women’s World Cup kicks off in July.

North Carolina Courage captain Abby Erceg has given up a once in a lifetime opportunity to play at a home World Cup after coach Jitka Klimkov√° confirmed the 146-cap veteran had retired from international duty so she can concentrate on her club commitments in the United States.

Erceg has not played for the Football Ferns since the SheBelieves Cup in the US last February, with Klimkov√° regularly citing “club commitments” for her continued absence.

Erceg herself has not commented on her retirement nor the reasons for her decision to walk away from the Football Ferns for a third and likely last time with a home World Cup on the horizon.

However, Jackman, who played alongside Erceg at the 2007 World Cup, has shed some more light on her former defensive partner’s decision to call it quits.

Jackman said Erceg was no longer passionate about playing for New Zealand and felt the Football Ferns had regressed since their peaks in 2013 and 2015.

The Football Ferns are currently ranked 24th, the equal lowest in their history, and have won just four of their last 30 games. They have never won a game at a World Cup.

“She wants to focus on where her passion is and that’s with North Carolina,” Jackman said.

Experienced Football Ferns defender Abby Erceg, right, has retired from international football.

Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Experienced Football Ferns defender Abby Erceg, right, has retired from international football.

“That’s where she enjoys her football. She said to me that it doesn’t matter if it’s her fifth or sixth World Cup, it’s no different to a fourth.

“The first was cool, the second was cool, but she wants to be in a team that is performing all the time and that’s what she has at North Carolina.

“I think she’s disappointed in where the Ferns have gone since the peak of 2013 and then the loss of funding in 2015 has been a real blow for the team and the lack of resources haven’t helped the team push on in her eyes.

“She’s all about enjoying her football and wasn’t enjoying it in that environment.”

Erceg has retired twice previously. In 2017 she made herself unavailable for selection and gave up the captaincy in an effort to get NZ Football to dedicate more resources to women’s football.

She returned in early 2018 but only played one match before making herself unavailable again, unhappy with how then-coach Andreas Heraf was running the team.

Heraf’s conduct while in charge of the Football Ferns was subsequently the subject of an independent review, which found that his actions amounted to bullying behaviour.

Although the Football Ferns have several other options at centre-back, Jackman felt none of them were in the same league as Erceg who she described as “world-class”.

The 33-year-old led Courage to back-to-back National Women’s Soccer League titles in 2018 and 2019.

“It’s a shame something could not have been worked out in some shape or form to have her there because she’s a real leader, one of the best defenders in the world,” Jackman said.

“Having her at the back, it was always good to have her there. She always knows how to run a game.

“It’s sad but it is what it is, Jitka and the team have other strengths to focus on and have to let that one go.”

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