Ex-A-League star Smeltz on retirement, politics and coaching

Shane Smeltz in action for Wellington Phoenix Source: Icon Sportswire

Former A-League star Shane Smeltz has confirmed he will don the boots again next year in the NPL Queensland, but has ruled out a return to politics.

Smeltz came out of retirement after two years to play for Gold Coast United this season. The 39-year-old striker bagged 13 goals in just 14 games for the semi-professional outfit.

Smeltz also ran for election for Clive Palmer’s Untied Australia Party for the seat of Bundaberg in the Queensland state election, but received just 0.8% of the first preference votes.

“I don’t see myself as having a career in politics, that’s for sure,” he told The World Game.

“These days I’m working for Clive Palmer and obviously helping him out wherever I can. I’ve learnt a lot stepping away from football, now in a project manager role with things here with Clive.

“As everybody knows he’s a busy, wealthy man so he’s got plenty of things going on. And it’s great to be learning. Clive’s involved in major business, in politics, his assets and the things he owns is massive.

“It’s great to see and great to be involved in, and I’m learning so much outside of football, which in the long run helps you in life. People will quite often say silly footballers and that kind of thing.

“You get so regimented in the way you go about your life and you focus so much on football, you don’t know how to pay a bill or do the simple things in life. So what I’m doing now has certainly opened my eyes and just broadened me as a human.

“But at the same I’ve spent 18 professional years in football and you always have that itch as well.”

Smeltz starred in the A-League with Gold Coast United, Perth Glory, Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix. He won the Johnny Warren Medal in 2019, two Golden boots and was named in the PFA Team of the Decade from 2005 to 2015.

But the prolific Kiwi forward has enjoyed getting back on the field on the Gold Coast, after walking away from the professional game after a stint with Borneo In Indoesia in 2017.

“It’s nice to be back on the Gold Coast,” he said.

“I grew up here and spent a large chunk of my junior life here, went to school here. When I retired officially from the professional game I went into coaching straight away, which was something I knew I was doing at the back end of my career. I had that already organized with Sydney FC.

“So I went into that and from that I never really thought I would put the boots on properly again. And although it’s not the professional level where I’m playing now, it’s nice two years after that decision to put the boots back on.

“And I feel pretty good, which is nice. I’m doing it simply for my own personal enjoyment and also just to give back to the game a little bit, back to the young players of the club and young players around. When I was growing up it was important to have good senior players.

“Those are the ones you learn off. It was not about money, not about trying to resurrect a career or anything like that, it was a completely different aspect and look that I have on the game on the moment, which is great.

“I ended up only playing 14 games, because I managed to get myself a four-week suspension, which wasn’t good, and I got a couple of niggles throughout the season. And with Covid the season was broken up, so I played 14 games and scored 13 goals, so not a bad return.

“We’ll see how we go next season. It wasn’t the greatest season in the end for the men’s team. But I’ve spoken to the club and I’ll be on board, I’m looking forward to it.”

In July 2018 the ex-All White joined the coaching staff of Sydney FC’s Under-20s. Smeltz enjoyed his time on the sidelines and is keen to make return to coaching in the future.

“I think at the right time that will happen,” he said.

“My time at Sydney FC was one I really enjoyed. It was working with that age group and some of the best young players in the country at the time.

“We had a large number of players in the Australian Under-17s, the Under-20s, and currently now in the Under-23s, so they were a good group of boys. I was Under-20s coach and assistant to the NPL team and no one expected the NPL side to do anything, and it was a really young age group, younger than previous years and they went on and did really well.

“They’ve done well this season as well. From that I’ve got a bit of an itch to go back into coaching at some stage probably. Whether it’s on the side, in terms of being at NPL level, or whatever it might be I think I will take it up at some stage.”

The A-League is set to return on December 27 after a tumultuous season marked by Covid-19 and a decline in TV broadcast revenue. Smeltz, who spent nine seasons in the competition, believes the A-League can be helped by making Australia’s grassroots and NPL’s systems stronger.

“The harsh reality is the game, all over the world, but especially here it’s not in a great position at the present time,” he admitted.

“But it’s up to everybody to pull through that and it will, the game’s too big to be lost in any way. It will certainly find its feet again. But the way I see it right now is that the media coverage behind the A-League, sponsorship, the numbers in fans and viewing, everything’s down.

“So it’s a matter of making sure the base is solid in the next year or two and then hopefully grow when everyone comes out of it. For myself working a little bit with Gold Coast United and seeing clubs outside of the A-league at NPL level and even further down at grassroots level, I really think that’s somewhere where the focus needs to be at this stage.

“Yes we want to get the A-League flying again and crowds back and sponsorship money flying, but at the end of the day you need a really, really good base in this country. So many people have been having so many comments about what needs to be done, and so many things are down the right track in terms of B-Leagues and relegation and all this sort of stuff.

“But the only one we have all that and get all that done is if we have the numbers behind the game at junior level and parents behind the game. Your NPL and grassroots levels to be really, really strong.

“You look at other codes, at AFL for example and rugby league, everybody’s been hit [by Covid-19], but the A-League seems to have been hit the hardest. And I think maybe we didn’t have certain things in order to take that leap.

“But we need to learn from those mistakes and make sure certain things are in order so we can bounce back as quickly as some of the other codes have.”