You are on page 1of 3

Lucas Neill Interview

T IS the eve of Australia’s final World Cup group game,

against Serbia, and Lucas Neill is sitting next to his
grumpy, please-let-me-be-anywhere-else-but-here
coach Pim Verbeek as another mutually catty press
commitment creaks to an end in Nelspruit.
The team has been battered for their crushing defeat against
Germany, Harry Kewell has raged at coverage of the team –
“youse are meant to be supporting us” – and Tim Cahill has –
according to some reporters although he later denies it – claimed
“as a nation, we’ve never been given a fair go.”
The red cards to Cahill and Kewell, both harsh, have left the
Socceroos facing likely elimination and, almost to a man, including
the increasingly erratic boss, they are battling to stay upbeat. FFA
Chairman Frank Lowy gives them a nudge into line by putting
the “w” word on the table. “We’ve got to accept those decisions;
whinging is not a trait we should follow,” Lowy tells The Sydney
Morning Herald. “I don’t believe we are whingers, but it’s important
we just get on with it.”
As the media conference winds up I ask Verbeek about Lowy’s
pointed comment: “Do you think the team is whinging?”
Verbeek looks away. Neill meets my eyes. There is no doubt
which is the alpha of these males.

“I’ve always “Can I answer that?” Neill jumps in. “Every single player took it
on the chin because there is nothing that can be done about it.

tried to lead Australia has never been a team of whingers. Did we whinge when
we went down to 10 men [in the 1-1 draw with Ghana]? No, we

with actions stood up, took it on the chin and probably should have won the
game. A team of whingers would have lost three or four to one and

. . . I’ll lead the then complained to the referee.”

Australia’s World Cup campaign never got rolling – bad luck
line, take the Aus tra
eill on h
and bad tactics saw to that. Disappointing as it was, though,
Neill stood out for his leadership. He speaks as he plays – no-

Luca p style and

blows. I believe
nonsense, no backward steps. There were three gutting results in
leaders Socceroos
South Africa, despite the win over Serbia, and Neill’s emotion was
raw and real. Yet every time, he fronted up and did his duty as the

so much in my e
why th rdest team
team’s leader, staring down camera barrel, no whining.

The Rock
are the all. Tony
He may not be our most talented player, his motives have been

team and I feel in footb reports

it’s my job to Harpe

protect them.
I’m happy to
be a shield”

images Ryan Pierse / GETTY IMAGES

+ 15
questioned at club level, but when it comes to leading “The Asian Cup gives us a genuine opportunity to against Saudi Arabia, he looked up to Tony Popovic, play with some great captains and leaders in my time and everything’s put on a plate for them. They must play regular first team football – that’s how to become
Australia, few if any can match Neill’s passion. challenge for a title and gives us another opportunity now an assistant coach at Sydney FC. “He will go in senior football,” he says. “I’ve picked up a lot of maintain their hunger and desire.” the best players they can for our national team.”
in a tournament situation,” says Neill. “The more times on to be a great manager,” Neill says. “I learned so things – good and bad.” Neill talks of a Socceroos bond that goes way Neill is well spoken but believes actions are more

S IX MONTHS after Nelspruit, and a victory that left

him sobbing, it’s a more content Lucas Neill on
the phone from Turkey, as he talks to Football+ about
we have those opportunities, it gives us a better
chance of performing at a high level at the World Cup.
We keep being named as the number one team in
much from him: he was always fully committed to
training, pushed himself and always played the game
in the right manner.”
He takes his sport, and his role, seriously. “I’m of the
mentality that I’ve come a long, long way and sacrificed
a lot to play my football professionally,” he says.
beyond the club teams he has represented. Part of the
role of elder statesman seems to be that of an ego cop.
Making sure dues are paid, respect is given.
important in leadership. “Being vocal was never my
strongest point,” he says. “I’ve always tried to lead
with actions. That means you’re always on time, you’re
the Socceroos’ Asian Cup campaign, his leadership Asia and we really want to live up to that.” Others to make an impression include former It’s a theme – talent is nothing without “We are conscious as senior pros that younger always pushing yourself at training, always giving
and what makes the team special. Because Neill, 32, has spent 15 years Manchester United tough guy Roy Keane, and professionalism – that he warms to as he contrasts players coming into the squad realise the significance 200 per cent. That infectious, positive approach, the
the tournament falls during the regular – his whole adult life – on Chelsea captain John Terry. “They’re great leaders on his early days in the game with the latest generation of playing for this national team and how lucky they are relaxed manner, but with that strong will to win I have,
European season, several Socceroos have the road playing football. the field,” says Neill. “They play with their chests stuck of Australian pros. to be professional footballers,” Neill says. “I think the comes from my family.”
understandably been non-committal He went from the sunny out, they really care about their teams and won’t let “My only fear with the young players is that they young guys can sometimes lose that feeling. They have Neill says his private persona is different to his
about their presence in Qatar for the northern beaches anyone near their teammates.” don’t adopt the attitude that they have to train every abundant talent but it’s about channelling their energy.” professional approach. “There have been many
January 7-29 tournament. Neill of Sydney to the As a member of the pack, Neill was always day, work very hard and keep pushing themselves,” It goes beyond the rare days when the Socceroos occasions in life where I’ve chosen to take a
says he has no such issues. His Australian Institute of interested in how leaders went about the task, took Neill says. “Sometimes it can come too easy for meet up to prepare for their next assignment. backwards stance and turned the other way and
club Galatasaray will play cup Sport in Canberra note of their worthiness. “I’ve been lucky enough to players now – anything they want they can have “It’s important that they choose the right clubs and decided not to get involved,” he says. “But when it
matches but only one league
game in the period.
He is eager to get back on a
stage which proved disappointing
last time. Leading the team in 2007,
after becoming the Socceroos’ 50th
captain in late 2006, he received a red
card in a group loss to Iraq and missed a
penalty in the shootout defeat by Japan. The
side, under Graham Arnold, was criticised for perceived and on to Millwall
arrogance; from the outside there was a sense the for six seasons.
Socceroos had gone in expecting it to be a procession. After more than 150
“I wouldn’t call it arrogance,” says Neill. “On appearances he got his
rankings we’re supposed to be one of the superior Premier League break with
teams in the tournament so we should be going there Blackburn and stayed six
believing we can win it. And I don’t think we were more. He rejected Liverpool for
arrogant last time. We did go in a bit underdone – we a leadership role at West Ham
just didn’t prepare right.” and had a brief stint with Cahill at Everton before
Neill has made his fortune from the game and is joining Kewell at Galatasaray. It has been a career of
content in life, his two-year-old twins Toby and Paige, tough graft and few baubles. Neill knows a scrap when
“make me laugh out loud every day”. Yet there is a desire he’s in one, and likes being out front. The players he
to fill a hole; to lead his country to a tournament victory, admires most are not the flash natural talents, but the
an exclamation point the members of the Socceroos’ hard men paid to stop them.
golden generation believe they owe themselves. When Neill made his national team debut, in 1996

Neill is livid about Harry Kewell’s dismissal

“My fear with the young players is that they don’t adopt the
attitude that they have to work very hard and keep pushing
themselves. It can come too easy for players now”
16 FOOTBALL+ + 17
comes to football I’m just so passionate about it. I’ll cruise, but cherishes his time with the national team.
lead the line, take the blows. I believe so much in my “It’s a unique position with the Socceroos to go in
team and I feel it’s my job to protect them. I’m happy to as captain and know that you don’t have to demand
be a shield if that’s what’s needed.” commitment, that it comes naturally,” he says.
Guus Hiddink tells Football+ later in this edition that “People might think it’s weird that a professional The Socceroos skipper talks A-League, coaching and his lasting love of football
he was shocked by the level of intensity at training footballer wouldn’t have that attitude every day but
when he first took over the team for the 2006 World some only want to perform on weekends and take it His western Sydney A-League a common link. There’s a bond there and no one
Cup campaign. “They kicked each other,” Hiddink told easy during the week. We are not like that. We have franchise bid being rejected With Hiddink can ever take that away from us.”
us, “and the attitude is ‘no worries’.” a squad who turn up every day and focus and push “I fronted a bid that I thought was a very
Neill laughs at the truth in this. In training, the themselves as hard as possible. To have that team technically-sound bid and a lot of hard work went New boss Holger Osieck
Socceroos, with their battles to the pain, are perhaps spirit naturally and not have to create it is something into it. The process was disappointing and a little “My first impression was that he’s very relaxed
the hardest team you will find on the planet. you won’t get in many teams in the world, if any. It’s baffling. As a Socceroo I only ever wanted to see and knowledgable. He’s been involved in football
“Guus is right,” he says. “That’s a unique thing about why we’ve gotten results, produced things people what I could do to help the A-League. for a long time, and I know his age has been
our team. We don’t hurt each other but we play as might not have thought possible.” “For all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen, slightly questioned – but he certainly still has a
physically as we can. Everyone will tell you it doesn’t Hiddink feels Australia must match their intensity but what’s even more disappointing now, after passion and fire for football. I wasn’t surprised by
happen in other training sessions anywhere else in the with improved skill. Neill concurs. “We need to raise a process I thought was questionable, the his selection. His name had come up before and
world. England is probably the closest it comes to being the level of skill and technique and performance to licence that was handpicked [Sydney Rovers] my first impression of him was a very good one.”
as physical. I think it’s that we all sacrificed so much to match that attitude and spirit and hopefully become a has struggled to get up. With another year to
get to where we are that whatever happens, we’re not formidable force in the game,” he says. get it together, they couldn’t do it so far. I think
With Osieck
going to complain about it.” His immediate future is to stand beside a new the A-League need a team out there in western
In between the lines of Neill’s answers, it’s obvious coach, Holger Osieck, in Qatar. Win or lose, he will Sydney but someone needs to back it. I thought
he has frustrations with aspects of professional football. pick up the trophy or take his place first in the firing our bid would have got the money, but that’s a
He won’t point the finger at players who slack off or line. A born leader, he won’t go missing. story for another day . . .
“I’ll always give back to Australian football,

“We don’t hurt each other but we play as physically

I’ll still look at coming back and playing in
the A-League and always support it. But if an back; I guess what’s to be decided is what level
opportunity presents itself to get involved in that’s going to be at. I don’t know yet. Do I want

as we can. Everyone will tell you that it doesn’t happen another team [as an investor] I’ll tread a lot more
carefully next time because my heart, my spirit,
to work with kids, which would be very rewarding,
or do I want to test myself at the higher level of

in other training sessions anywhere else in the world” has been a little . . . dampened.” man management, coaching at the elite level? I’m
interested in exploring that avenue.”
His plans for the 2022 World Cup
“I will be 42 and I’ll be there as the proudest Catching up with ex-Socceroos
supporter possible. If I’m lucky enough to be coach Guus Hiddink in Turkey
coaching at the time I would love to be coaching “We’ve been trying to but every man and his
at the level that I could be part of the Socceroos. dog wants some time with Guus in Turkey! We
Being in the World Cup would be the dream for still exchange occasional text messages and
anyone with aspirations of being a football coach best wishes every now and again. There’s still a
or manager. I always said I want to give something connection there, a small feeling of achievement,

The legacy of 2006 and 2010

“It’s natural that any country is going to keep
producing players. If anything we’ve made it
more achievable now for young Australian players
to go on to play at a World Cup. Before it was a
dream, now it’s a realisation that, ‘If I do well and
make the Socceroos then I’ll get a chance to
play in the World Cup’.”

If he likes watching football

“Always will, always have. I drive past games
in the local park and always glance at it, look at
the skills, check out the level. Yes, at times it’s
hard work, but it’s been in my life forever and
that love will never change.”