By Rob Cornell
Development keeper Nik Tzanev is aiming to follow in the footsteps of a former AFC Wimbledon favourite, who went on to have a glittering career on the world stage for New Zealand.
All Whites great Shane Smeltz recently hung up his boots. Long before scoring at the 2010 World Cup finals for the Kiwis, the striker had a memorable spell with AFC Wimbledon. Five years previous to netting a historic goal against Italy, he played a part in helping clinch a Ryman Division One and Surrey Senior Cup double for the Dons under Dave Anderson.
“It would be great to have even half the career he had, but I want to prove another Wimbledon player can step in those shoes and even continue that legacy of his,” said Nik, having returned to Dons duty in midweek after his first full international call-up.
Nik travelled to Spain for New Zealand’s international with Canada, where he trained with the squad and was named on the bench for the match. Although they suffered a 1-0 defeat, he’s eager for more opportunities to represent his country in the near future.
“It was an amazing experience to go away with the national team; it filled me with tremendous pride and honour. I really want to thank everyone at Wimbledon - especially Ashley Bayes (Goalkeeper Coach) and Neal Ardley for letting me go away and helping to shape me into international standard.
“It had been a while since I’d been away representing New Zealand at under-20 level, two and a half years ago, so it was a good experience for me and it will stay with me.
“We were out in Spain where the facilities where top notch. I think Newcastle were there before us. It was really good to get in that professional environment and be there 24/7, with all new coaches and see all the boys I haven’t seen in a while.
“I think I’ve managed to impress them, so I’ll do my best in training now in upcoming games to get another call-up.”
Having previously been with Brentford, the 21 year-old joined up with the Dons last season and impressed Neal Ardley to earn a new deal with the club last summer. He became the first choice in Alan Reeves’ development side and trains with Ashley Bayes and first-team keepers George Long and Joe McDonnell.
“It’s really good with ‘Bayzo’, the tempo we have in training is excellent,” said Nik. “I’m pushing ‘Macca’, ‘Macca’ is pushing ‘Longy’ – we’ve got a really good morale and mentality in the group. I’ve just got to keep that going until the end of the season now and hope for the best.
“The aim is to get on the bench for the first-team again this season and play as many games as I can, showcase what I can do and prove it on the field of play.”
Nik returned from the warmth of the Spanish sunshine to play for the development side last Tuesday at Yate Town. He figured in the 1-1 draw for the Central League South leaders against second-in-the-table Bristol Rovers. It’s set to be a busy time between the sticks, with games coming thick and fast, as the squad go for a second successive regional title.
“It was nice getting back into it and a good performance from the boys as we ground out a point, but we were frustrated not to get the win. We thought we should have come away with a lot more from that game, but we look to next week, take it as a positive and try to learn from our mistakes,” said Nik.
Development goalkeeper Nik Tzanev is pictured with Wimbledon’s number one George Long.