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Why all the Neill nastiness?

by John Davidson on Mar 04, 2014

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Lucas Neill was thrown a lifeline by Watford last week, news that was not exactly met with excitement by many in the Australian football community.

Neill has been something of a football nomad since leaving Galatasaray in 2011 with stints at Al Jazira, Al Wasl, Sydney FC and Omiya Ardija. He has played less than 40 club games in nearly three years.

At 35 years of age – he turns 36 on March 9 – his career is winding down. But the reaction to his signing with Watford and his subsequent non-selection for the Socceroo squad to face Ecuador would have you believe he is almost one of Australia’s most disliked sportsmen.

Is that fair?

He hasn’t abused anyone’s wife or race (Anthony Mundine), punched an opponent in a pub (David Warner), sexually assaulted a woman (Blake Ferguson), stolen a laptop (Quade Cooper), help fix a match (Ryan Tandy), dealt drugs (Scott Miller) or smashed up a piano (Grant Hackett).

His crime?

Hitting back at the booing he received by an Australian crowd after the Costa Rica game, responding to strong criticism from former Socceroos Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater, voicing his opinion on young players coming through, and simply not retiring. Not giving away international football.

Those charges don’t really stack up compared to those perpetrated by Aussie athletes in other sporting codes. A lot of the vitriol directed at Neill is undeserved.

We must remember that Neill doesn’t pick the Socceroos squads, the head coach does. Holger Osieck can take the credit for prolonging his international career. As Michael Lynch eloquently wrote in The Age Neill simply won’t give up. He wants to fight on. In many ways it’s an admirable trait. Ultimately it’s the manager’s job to tap him on the shoulder and say your time is up.

Some of us, myself included at times, have been too quick to blame Neill for all of the Socceroos ills – an ageing team, whippings by Brazil and France, a lacklustre World Cup qualifying campaign. He has been an easy target. But Neill is just one man.

Expectations are now always high for the Socceroos, possibly unrealistically, precisely because of the wonderful contributions of people like him and Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Mark Bresciano, Mark Schwarzer, John Aloisi etc etc. We are expected to qualify for every World Cup, regularly punch above our weight and be one of the top teams in Asia. In part the defender from Manly and his Golden Generation has somewhat been a victim of his own success.

However Neill’s career ends, we must not forget or ignore his service to our national team. Ninety-six caps for the Socceroos. More than half a century of games as captain. Two World Cups and two Asian Cups. A near two decades representing Australia at Young Socceroo, Olyroo and senior levels. A long career at the coalface of European football.

Whatever the current situation, Neill has been a great ambassador for Aussie football. He would be among the top 10 to 20 players to have ever worn the green and gold. Lucas Edward Neill has been a fantastic servant and like Peter Wilson, Joe Marston, Charlie Yankos, Alex Tobin, Craig Moore and others before him, deserves some respect.