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September 8, 2015
Australia return: Lucas Neill. Photo: Mark Kolbe
Former Socceroos captain Lucas Neill may have finally ended his year-long hiatus from football and appears close to returning home to resume his playing career, but it is not with any club you would expect.
Having not played competitive football since leaving Watford in June 2014 and being overlooked for the last World Cup squad, Neill is edging towards returning to Australia having been deep in negotiations to sign with National Premier League NSW club Hakoah Sydney City.
After spending 10 years in the English Premier League as well as stints with Turkish giants Galatasaray and the in the UAE, the 96-time Socceroo could become a regular at the Hensley Athletics Field in Eastgardens next year.
Hakoah Sydney City are making the ambitious bid to sign 37-year-old Neill after earning the second of back-to-back promotions to the National Premier League NSW division 1 next season, one grade below the A-League.
With more than six months until the start of the next season, club president Michael Katz confirmed negotiations have taken place for Neill to make the extraordinary move and play in the state league. Neill has close ties with Hakoah coach Mark Robertson whom he has worked with at football coaching clinics in Australia.
Neill has been identified as a potential leader at the club whose roster is replete with talented youngsters.
In 2011, the board embarked on a five-year plan to reach the NSW Premier League 1 to restore the former giants of Australian football.
Katz denied that a potential signing would be made simply to attract interest of the public.
“Our focus has been on sustainability so if Lucas fits that then great, but we are not using this as an opportunity just to make a statement,” Katz said. “If it happens, it would be a reflection on Robbo [coach Mark Robertson] and his ability to attract talented players whether they’re juniors or seniors. That’s what he’s been able to do ever since he joined.”
The Hakoah squad boasts former Scotland international Gavin Rae.
“If [Neill] did come we would be looking at him to undertake the same kind of role as Gavin Rae. He captained at Glasgow Rangers, he played in a [Scottish] FA cup final. What he brought in terms of professionalism was immeasurable. He would probably be the most competitive player out there, he would want to win every game.”
Hakoah will be the only club from the smallest football association within the state to ever compete in the NSW Premier League next season and are eager to avoid the fate of most newly promoted teams: relegation within their first two seasons.
“As a club we are really honoured about the five-year project we have just achieved, it is something we will all look back at with a lot of pride. But, we are also really excited about the next five years ahead. As a club, in terms of administration we have to step things up to another level. We are a young board here at Hakoah but we’re very ambitious,” Katz said.
The Canberra Times
Brace of goals … Tim Cahill competes for a header with Eraj Rajabov and Nurriden Davronov of Tajikistan at Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo: Getty Images
Dushanbe, Tajikstan: It might have taken Australia almost an hour to break down a determined Tajikistan side, but Socceroo boss Ange Postecoglou never felt that his team was in any real danger in their World Cup qualifier in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
Mark Milligan’s 57th-minute opener and Tim Cahill’s brace, one with 16 minutes remaining the other in stoppage time, gave Australia a 3-0 win to put it in the driving seat of its qualifying group for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Even though he admitted there can be nervous moments when a team dominates possession but doesn’t score, he said that he never had any doubts that the goals would come as Australia’s lower ranked opposition tired.
“I was pleased in the end, it was a game we controlled,” Postecoglou said. “It took us a while to get the first goal, I thought even then we controlled the game.
“Tajikistan worked very hard, once we got the first goal I think they got tired and we could control things.
“We won 3-0 away from home, I guess when its 0-0 its always a worry but I always felt we were in control. They were working very hard and were very organised and at some point it was going to tell.
Fresh legs … Nathan Burns takes a shot at goal against Tajikistan in Dushanbe. Photo: Getty Images
“We scored three goals, we hit the post twice, our goalkeeper didn’t have a save to make maybe one.
The Australian coach was also happy with the energy his substitutes made when they came on to test Tajikistan further.
“The substitutes gave us a really good edge. Burnsy (Nathan Burns) and the two Toms (Rogic and Oar) exposed the spaces in behind.”