Lucas Neill is the captain of the Socceroos. He is the 50th person to have held this role and has been in charge since October 2006, when now-Central Coast manager and then-caretaker Graham Arnold appointed him in the role.
Neill began his international career at the age of 18 years and 7 months, the third youngest Australian to make his national debut after Duncan Cummings and golden boy Harry Kewell. Post the 2000 Olympics, which he played in, Neill would become a mainstay in the defence of Australia’s ‘golden generation’ of footballers, the mid-2000’s Socceroos.
Capped 89 times, his most infamous moment is of course his ‘tackle’ on Italian Fabio Grosso at the death of Australia’s second round encounter at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
If you were up at 4am that morning, you would’ve heard the sound of Australia’s hearts breaking as Francesco Totti put the ball past Mark Schwarzer in the resulting penalty, subsequently eliminating Australia from the tournament. The Australian public blamed Grosso for diving.
His club career began at Millwall who are famous for having Australian internationals on their books, with Kevin Muscat and Tim Cahill joining the Lions after Neill left to join Blackburn in 2001. He would stay there for 10 years before joining West Ham, Everton (where he would join Cahill) and later Turkish side Galatasaray, linking up with Harry Kewell.
He was then released at the end of the 2010-11 season. Still captain of the Socceroos, Neill took the unusual option of playing in the United Arab Emirates Pro League. This decision disappointed many Australian football fans and changed the opinions of him in many of their minds.
Some thought that Neill should give something back to football in his own country and play in the A-League, which is arguably of better quality than the UAE Pro League, especially given he is the captain of the national side. Instead, he chose to chase the money. He was later released by his club and signed on for another club in the Emirates.
In January 2013, Neill was replaced by Ahmad Ibrahim Khalaf as Al Wasl’s only allowed import player, therefore releasing him. It was rumoured there were no offers for him internationally, so only now would he decide to play domestic football in his home country for the first time.
Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar were quick to jump at the chance to sign him.
Brisbane’s inability to qualify for the Asian Champions League and the unlikelihood of the side making the A-League finals didn’t really make a deal for Neill seem worthwile pursuing.
The Heart on the other hand were just inside the top six and after losing Aziz Behich and Michael Marrone during the transfer window were looking to shore up their backline for a finals assault.
Along with this, the Heart are not in the best of positions off the field. Crowds pale in comparison to their cross-town rivals but the signing of Neill would arguably have created interest with Melburnians. The Australian captain playing for an A-League side, what a first.
But this was not to be. At the 11th hour, Sydney FC doubled the Melbourne Heart’s offer and Lucas Neill signed on with the Sky Blues as a guest player for the last six weeks of the season.
What was that about giving back to football, Lucas?
A few questions need to be asked here. If the FFA are serious about sustaining a second A-League team in Melbourne, why are they helping Sydney FC pay for Lucas Neill, when the club already has superstars Alessandro del Piero and Brett Emerton on their books?
Yes, the FFA are helping Sydney FC pay Lucas Neill’s wages. How is this helping broaden football across the country if the side already has two crowd-pullers?
The logical thing for the FFA to do would have been to tell Sydney FC they were on their own if they wanted him, but help clubs like the Melbourne Heart with the wages if they wanted him. It would be in the best interest of football in this country.
But that is all to hard for the Sydney-centric FFA.
As for Neill, this decision really does show his true colours. He may be the captain of the Socceroos, but by no means should he be looked at as a leader.
It now occurs to me why so many people don’t like the bloke. Bring on next Sunday.