Lucas Neill (L) made a shock appearance alongside new Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson (C) and Australia's UK High Commissioner George Brandis (R).
Lucas Neill (L) made a shock appearance alongside new Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson (C) and Australia's UK High Commissioner George Brandis (R).

Aussie icon emerges from 6-year exile

It has long been one of Australian football's greatest mysteries and saddest tales but there appears to be a happy ending.

Affer Tony Gustavsson was appointed as the new Matildas coach, footage shot by FFA was sent out which showed the Swedish boss entering Australia House in London.

It was all part of revealing Gustavsson's new role in hopefully guiding the Matildas to become world champions, but in the background another big story had emerged.

The shot lasts just six seconds but eagle-eyed football fans were quick to point out former Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill walking behind Gustavsson.

 

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The FFA confirmed to The World Game's Nick Stoll that he "was there along with Alicia Ferguson helping co-ordinate on the ground as FFA reps."

The Sydney Morning Herald added that sources suggested he had an ongoing role at the FFA as opposed to it being an isolated appearance.

 

 

Neill's re-emergence into the public forum is welcome news given his concerning disappearance from the limelight after missing out on a spot in Australia's 2014 World Cup squad.

Ange Postecoglou, who was Socceroos coach at the time, wrote in his book Changing The Game that Neill maintained he would "go to ground" if he was not selected.

He hadn't really been sighted since.

Neill has never fronted the media to speak about the Socceroos demotion, nor Mark Viduka's stunning claim that Neill "tried to undermine" his Australian captaincy.

Throughout personal bankruptcy and despite repeated attempts from former teammates to reach out, the Socceroos third-most-capped player in history (96) has spent six years in isolation from the football world.

The Socceroos were one of the raging favourites in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup after their success at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

However, their campaign came to a crashing end with a penalty shootout defeat to Japan in the quarter-finals.

In a bombshell interview with ESPN earlier this year, former Australia captain Viduka broke his silence on the selfishness that cost the group, taking particular aim at Neill.

"I think Lucas Neill, at that stage, came to that Asian Cup not in a good state of mind because of the fact that (head coach) Graham Arnold had offered him the captaincy - because he wasn't sure whether I was going to come to the Asian Cup or not," Viduka told ESPN.

"Once I was at the Asian Cup, either he (Arnold) wasn't brave enough to tell me that I wasn't captain anymore, or whatever, and I felt that Lucas Neill was sulking that whole Asian Cup. Through the preparations for it and through the Asian Cup, and it affected other players.

"I think Lucas tried to undermine me.

"I think his priority was to be captain - more because of his other activities he had off the pitch rather than actually on the pitch stuff. That's my opinion."

 

 

Neill's story looked to have taken a sobering turn for the worse in 2016 when it emerged he had been declared bankrupt in the UK.

While widely accepted as one of Australia's greatest-ever footballers, the superb defender was perceived by some to be too focused on money as his career took him overseas to England, Turkey, the Middle East and Japan.

In 2013 he controversially questioned the "hunger and desire" of Australia's emerging young talent, prompting Fox Football expert and former Socceroo Robbie Slater to join a chorus of critics calling for him to be replaced.

Slater himself was able to provide an insight into Neill's sheltered public presence after running into him at a shopping centre in Sydney a few years ago.

"I was having a coffee with (former Central Coast Mariners coach) Phil Moss at the local shops when I saw Lucas in the background," Slater told FoxSports.com.au earlier this year.

"His mum and dad were from the area, but I hadn't seen him for years.

"He saw me but he thought I hadn't seen him. Then he darted right into the Woolworths.

I said to Phil: 'You wouldn't believe it! I just saw Lucas Neill dart into the shops when he saw me.

"I was thinking: 'Why on earth would you do that? What would make him react like that?'

"After a few minutes, I went to the front counter at Woollies pretending to look at something in the shop, to see if I could chat with him.

"I saw him see me again, then he hid behind the pasta aisle at the end of the shop. He must have left, I didn't see him."

And so, the sad mystery dragged on as Neill continued to shy away from the public view.

 

The stalwart Neill pulls on the captain’s armband in a 2013 friendly.
The stalwart Neill pulls on the captain’s armband in a 2013 friendly.

 

However, earlier this year there were signs that his self-imposed exile was ending, when his name appeared alongside a host of famous Socceroos from the so-called "Golden Generation" in a new group under that same name.

The group, which featured former captains Viduka and Craig Moore and other top stars like John Aloisi, Scott Chipperfield, Vince Grella, Zeljko Kalac, and Josip Skoko, published a list of ideas and tenets to drive Australian football forward.

Neill's place in the group was his first visible role in football since a brief one as an ambassador for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

But now a six-second clip proves the legendary player is back from the cold, putting a pleasing end to Australia's greatest football mystery.

 

 

Originally published as Aussie icon emerges from 6-year exile



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