One of Canadian soccer’s most distinguished stars has called it quits.
Paul Stalteri, the Canadian national team’s all-time leading appearance leader, announced his retirement on Wednesday afternoon, bringing to an end a 14-year career that saw him rise from the obscurity of the North American A-League to the heights of the Bundesliga and Premiership.
Stalteri has been without a pro club since 2011, as he’s dealt with a nagging hip injury and been recovering from a pair of operations. A 35-year-old native of Toronto, Stalteri said that even though he feels 100 per cent and better than he has in a long time, it was the right time to step away from the game.
"What made the decision so difficult and what took so long was that I felt really good after a long rehab period," Stalteri told reporters during a conference call.
He later added: "I’m at a point in my career where I’m ready to move on and I have no regrets whatsoever. I had a fantastic run. I was fortunate enough to play in some of the best teams and leagues in the world. It’s a sad day in one sense."
Stalteri made his national team debut as a 19-year-old on Aug. 17, 1997 in a friendly against Iran and went on to win 84 caps for Canada, 83 as a starter. His last appearance for the Reds was in October 2010 in a friendly versus Ukraine. He scored seven goals for Canada, and served as the team’s captain for 30 games between 2007 and 2011.
"Being able to captain and play for Canada was an honour and highlight in my career," Stalteri said.
Former Canadian goalkeeper and current Sportsnet broadcaster Craig Forrest was a teammate of Stalteri’s, and remembered him as a versatile player who had a “great engine on him” and could run up and down the park.
“He was great athlete. He was a great pro, good work rate, and a good guy to be around. He fit in well with the group. He had great leadership skills; someone who didn’t say a lot but certainly led by example,” Forrest told sportsnet.ca.
A stalwart defender and midfielder for the national team since earning his first cap, Stalteri was twice named the Canadian player of the year twice (2001 and 2004), and helped his country win the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup, still the only major tournament that Canada has won at senior men’s level.
He called the Gold Cup victory the highlight of his national team career, and Canada’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, or even advance to the Hex in most cases, the biggest letdown.
"All of (the World Cup qualifying campaigns) pretty much where we weren’t able to get into that final round of qualifying, I think that was always a disappointment to myself," Stalteri offered.
Stalteri was someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, especially when it came to representing his country. He took great pride in playing for Canada, even when he received pressure from his pro club not to do so.
“He never found excuses not to play (for Canada). If he was healthy, he went. He always accepted the call,” Forrest stated.
Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani heaped praise on Stalteri on Wednesday, thanking him or his "unwavering support" for Canadian soccer.
Stalteri began his pro career with the Toronto Lynx where he played with Dwayne De Rosario, before moving to Europe where he enjoyed stints with German clubs Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Tottenham and Fulham in the English Premiership.
It was with Bremen that he enjoyed the most success, helping the club win a Bundesliga title and the German Cup during the 2003-04 season. After seven years in Germany, he moved to Spurs in 2005 where he regularly featured for the London club before falling out of favour.
He went on loan to Fulham and eventually went back to Tottenham where his contract was eventually terminated in 2008. His last port of call was back in Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach but he parted ways.
“It was an amazing achievement what he did in Bundesliga with Bremen. Not many Canadians played abroad and had the kind of success he had,” Forrest said.
As far as his future goes, Stalteri isn’t quite sure what lies ahead. He done some coaching at elite youth level and went on a coaching course run by CONCACAF last fall. He also admitted he wants to obtain his coaching licenses but wasn’t sure if that would lead to him becoming a fulltime coach.
"I have to say with a wealth of experience I’ve obtained over the years, I’ll certainly bring something back to Canada in some aspect. It’s just what that is right now will be remain to be seen, if that’s coaching or managing or something like that at some point," Stalteri stated.