Dubai: Lucas Neill joined Al Wasl from Al Jazira last week, in one of the Etisalat Pro League’s highest-profile summer transfers.
At 34 years of age, the Australia captain, formerly of Millwall, Blackburn, West Ham, Everton and Galatasaray, offers plenty of experience to a young squad still emerging from the chaos left in former coach Diego Maradona’s wake.
A lynchpin in new coach Bruno Metsu’s direction for the squad, Neill can set the club back on track with his no-nonsense approach. But will a year’s contract help him elongate his career with Australia, with whom he has just reached 84 caps, 50 as captain? This make-or-break season, Neill’s 18th as a professional, will pose many questions of the ageing stalwart.
Neill, who has played in two World Cups, told Gulf News why he left Al Jazira and why he chose to stay in the UAE, despite receiving offers from clubs in Europe. Here are extracts from the interview.
Gulf News (GN): What does the Al Wasl transfer mean for your future?
Lucas Neill (LN): There’s no secret that my goal is to play on until the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Asian Cup and this contract fits in well with that plan. When deciding on my future I had to take into consideration the workload on my body but remain in a league that still challenged me. I was tempted to go back to Europe as enquiries were made, but my preferred choice was to stay in this region. It was an easy decision, made easier by the chance to play for Bruno Metsu. He has a phenomenal record in this region. Because of his track record and understanding of the league and its players I know he will get the most out of this team.
GN: Were you surprised by your release from Al Jazira?
LN: Leaving Jazira was a strange one. I genuinely felt I had given my all for the team, but the management decided they wanted to fill the Asian spot with a midfielder. That’s football and I respect them for that. So now I focus my energy on a successful year with Al Wasl and look forward to playing my old teammates, and hopefully getting the better of them.
GN: What did you learn from your first season in the UAE?
LN: It’s never easy in your first year in a new league, but with a season of experience under my belt I am confident this will be a good year for me. I understand the league and the way teams approach it, I can manage my body and preparation better — especially as the climate asks you plenty of questions — and, now I know most of the players I am up against, I will be able to counter their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
GN: You recently got you’re 50th Australia cap as captain. Is this a defining honour?
LN: It’s a milestone I’m truly proud of and it’s made even more special by the support I’ve received. My name is now etched into history alongside some fantastic captains of the past. But I am not done yet. There are still four goals I am determined to achieve; to qualify for Brazil 2014, earn 100-plus caps for the Socceroos, to take part in the 2015 Asian Cup and — the greatest personal achievement of all — to become the most capped captain of Australian football [Peter Wilson is currently top with 60].
GN: How do you rate Al Wasl’s chances?
LN: The club is putting the finishing touches on a foreign striker signing. If we land any of the three that have been named [Afonso Alves, Emmanuel Clottey, Yassine Salhi] then we will be a big threat in front of goal. I hope that I can help build a solid defensive line to allow our attacking players to shine. We have all the tools, its just about staying clear of injury, getting some luck and taking our chances in games when they come. The first league game is so crucial. It can be the springboard for a great season and it can give us confirmation of what I already feel — and that is that we are a good team, a winning team.