One of my most memorable memories from my time spent watching calcio in Italy came when Ireland played the Azzurri in Bari last March.
A huge Irish banner read: “F*** the recession, we’re on a session.” Indeed it encapsulated the spirit of the Emerald Isle, always willing to look on the bright side of life where alcohol is in the equation.
But not even the wildest dreamers of that away contingent could have imagined a high-earning, international footballer to be the richest man on the dole. Ok, Lucas Neill may not be joining the other 1.5 million people queuing to collect their unemployment benefit quite yet, but he has missed out on £245,000 since he failed to successfully renegotiate his contract at West Ham.
The Hammer’s current economic plight has been well publicised in the media. Manager Gianfranco Zola has reluctantly had to sell some previously indispensable squad members like Craig Bellamy to ease the financial woes at the club.
Subsequently it came as no surprise when the London club made it clear to the Australian international that the days of the player earning £60,000 had come to a sorry end. Well for the player at least.
The best offer that West Ham could put together was a measly £30,000 a week. Nowhere near acceptable for Neill. Both parties failed to reach a compromise and as a result twiddling his thumbs and planning a few “sessions” of his own.
Neill has long tolerated claims of the Australian being a mercenary. When it became clear he was leaving his former club Blackburn Rovers, it was a straight choice between Liverpool and West Ham United.
Liverpool, were a club playing regularly amongst Europe’s elite, or alternatively West Ham, a side which at the time were bracing themselves for a season battling against relegation. He picked London as his preferred choice.
The Upton Park board had offered Neill a better weekly wage in an attempt to deny Liverpool the right back they had tracked for some time. The player insisted his move wasn’t motivated by money, but the promise of regular football.
Well I’m sorry Mr. Neill that argument no longer stands up.
Firstly, if lining the inside of your wallet wasn’t an issue, then why aren’t you in the squad to face Millwall tonight? Secondly, your loyalty towards West Ham is truly inspiring.
The former Hammers captain is a good full back. The best in the Premier League? Definitely not.
Average at best, he would make a good signing for a club in the mid to lower end of the table.
His performances for the London club have been decent over the years. But at the age of 31, and renegotiating a final contract at a club devoid of a vast fortune, surely it was to be expected he would have to take a big pay cut.
Indeed West Ham did come back with an improved offer of £35,000 and bonuses. Overall it would have led to a figure in the region of £50,000—a figure only 10k short of his original pay packet!
According to calculations in the Daily Telegraph today, the time Neill has spent without a club has cost him a staggering £245,000.
Zola seems perplexed by the situation. He understood that both parties were in contract talks then Sunderland and Galatasaray were interested. Both fell through.
Neill is without a club, and no longer wanted by West Ham as Zola maintained that the full back was no longer a “priority in that position”.
Surely if there was ever a mercenary in football, it would be Lucas Neill?