The A-League Angle

Sydney capture Neill's heart

February 18, 2013
By Rob Brooks

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Sydney capture Neill's heart

Lucas Neill has moved to the A-League to keep his international hopes alive
GettyImagesLucas Neill has moved to the A-League to keep his international hopes alive

Lucas Neill signing with Sydney FC this week has garnered an abundance of media attention, while fans across Australia are split in their verdict on the move. But, surely, Australia's captain has come to the most sensible conclusion.

Upon being unveiled as the latest Sky Blues recruit on Sunday morning, Neill headed his doubters off at the pass, explaining his decision to turn down an offer from Melbourne Heart to sign a short-term deal with Sydney.

"I did give an indication that I would be excited about the opportunity of going to Melbourne (Heart)," Neill revealed. "There was never a case of leveraging one club against the other.

"But when the opportunity became very real to join Sydney, it was a difficult decision, but it was an easy one from a family point of view. I was born in Sydney, raised in Sydney and it's exciting times here at Sydney FC to commit myself to this club.

"As far as (the Heart) being gazumped at the last minute it was never a question of money. My intention was always to come here for football reasons and I made it very clear this wasn't financial. It's well documented that Melbourne's offer was 100 (AU$100,000) and I've signed here for 70 (AU$70,000).

"To the Melbourne Heart board and (coach) Johnny Aloisi and (assistant) Hayden (Foxe), I apologise if I gave too much of an indication I was heading down to Melbourne. I wish them all the best and in an ironic way I look forward to playing against them this weekend."

The only uncertainty which remains for Neill concerns his long-term future. What is in store for the defender next season and beyond? After signing on as a guest player, is his plan to remain in the A-League while preparing for crucial World Cup qualifiers?

Those questions will be answered in time. For now, the 34-year-old will help shore up Sydney's defence and, more importantly, offer leadership heading into the finals series. Frank Farina's men firmed their position in the top six with a 2-1 victory over fourth-placed Adelaide on Saturday evening, and with the return of Joel Griffiths, Brett Emerton and the addition of Neill next week, their clash with the Heart should make for compelling viewing.

The Heart, meanwhile, should see Neill's U-Turn as a catalyst for change. This season has seen the club plateau in terms of attendance and on-field performance, with many pundits beginning to question the identity of Melbourne's second team.

Whom do the Heart represent? What is at the core of the club? This is what they must address in the coming months, and Neill's decision could lay the platform.

Supporters and fringe observers alike will be fired up for this weekend's clash with Sydney, which may allow the club to build its supporter base. Having missed out on David Beckham, Michael Owen and now Neill, the Heart can properly plan for luring some star power to the club next season, while utilising this newfound passion as a motivating factor in their own push for the finals. Surely a better option than simply bidding for big-name players every time they become available.

This week, Aloisi's side looked flat against the Newcastle Jets, as the home side picked up a deserved 2-0 victory. The result leaves both clubs with all to play for over the remaining six weeks, with the Heart having potentially greater fire in the belly from here on in.

Neill's decision, then, may have indirectly benefited both Sydney and Heart, and the Australian national team will also profit from him playing regularly ahead of next month's fixture against Oman. Finally - crucially - Australia's captain has made a decision based not on money but on football.

He may not have chosen Heart, but at least Lucas Neill has shown some.

Title race back on

Western Sydney Wanderers notched their first home win on Friday evening
GettyImagesThe camaraderie of the Western Sydney Wanderers has been key to their success

Can any team stop the juggernaut that is the Western Sydney Wanderers?

The A-League's newest club made it six wins on the bounce on Saturday with a gritty 2-1 triumph over third-placed Melbourne Victory in front of a packed house at AAMI Park.

A hard-working defensive line and robust structure again featured for Western Sydney, who have moved beyond their early-season persona of a team incapable of creating goalscoring opportunities. Instead, they now have the same work ethic and willingness to fill in for their team-mates in the final third. The angled runs of players in attacking positions is creating cracks in the opposition defence, as Ange Postecoglou's team found out.

Equally as impressive as the Wanderers' current form was the atmosphere created by both sets of supporters, who have potentially set themselves apart from the rest of the league in terms of their colour and vibrancy.

The three points lifted Tony Popovic's side to within one point of league leaders the Central Coast Mariners, after they slipped up 2-1 on a tricky away trip to Perth Glory.

In the first match under interim coach Alistair Edwards, Perth raised their intensity to another level and deserved to earn the spoils. The Mariners, meanwhile, will be concerned by their alarming drop in concentration after dominating so thoroughly during the opening 15 minutes.

With the AFC Champions League set to kick off, the ability of the Central Coast to steady the ship amid a congested schedule could prove pivotal as they aim to hold on to top spot. If they don't, it seems the Wanderers will be only too willing to seize the opportunity to hoist the Premiership plate come season's end.

Strange times in Brisbane

Steve Lustica gave Brisbane Roar the lead in the first half
GettyImagesGoals from Steve Lustica and Besart Berisha earned Brisbane victory at the end of a turbulent week

What a week it was for Brisbane Roar. After failing to reach the AFC Champions League group stage following a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Thai side Buriram United midweek, the club bizarrely announced it had signed interim coach Mike Mulvey on a two-year deal.

If that wasn't odd enough, fans at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday unfurled a 'Mulvey Out' banner, but only did so after the team went 2-0 up against Wellington Phoenix. How peculiar.

Debate rages on over Mulvey's tenure, and the fans' right to display the banner - which was swiftly taken down by security staff - but it all points to a club struggling to find stability within a difficult season. Players have not displayed the same fluent passing game which saw Brisbane win back-to-back A-League titles, and the aura around the team has now faded.

This lack of conviction was evidenced in the loss to Buriram, particularly in the shootout where all three of their spot-kicks were fluffed.

Then, playing on what appeared to be a cow paddock against Wellington, Brisbane showed signs that there is enough fight and quality within their ranks to rescue something out of this season. A finals berth is certainly not out of the question, with this Friday's match away to sixth-placed Newcastle shaping as a decisive one.

In the meantime, for supporters, players and coaches alike, a few deep breaths are in order. The lofty heights of the past two seasons must be let go, but that does not necessarily mean success is out of their reach.