Neill's great escape

Lucas Neill was one of Rovers' most consistent players throughout the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and he became a permanent member of the Australia side as it secured qualification for the World Cup, writes Andy Hampson.

Lucas Neill, high-rated Australia World Cup defender, is currently with West Ham in the Barclays English Premier League after moving from Blackburn in January.

Neill was linked with big-money moves to a number of Europe's top clubs and seemed set to join Liverpool but eventually opted for the Hammers..

Neill hails from Sydney and, despite the city's numerous other sporting attractions, grew up as a footballer due to the influence of his father. Eddie Neill is a Northern Irishman who played for Linfield and Cliftonville before moving to Australia in 1969.

Neill attained a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport in 1994 and from there earned a break in English football with London side Millwall, then in the country's second tier. He proved a versatile player, operating in a number of positions around the field but principally excelling at full-back and centre-half.

After six years with the Lions he earned a GBP1 million move to the Premier League with newly-promoted Blackburn. His combative style made him an Ewood Park favourite and he established himself as a key member of the side.

The move to Blackburn also did wonders for his international career. He was one of Rovers' most consistent players throughout the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons and he became a permanent member of the Australia side as it secured qualification for the World Cup.

He played in all four matches in the tournament in Germany as Australia reached the second round for the first time in its history. Australia suffered an agonising defeat to eventual champion Italy but Neill's performances saw him linked with Barcelona and, not for the first time, Liverpool.

Having decided not to renew his contract with Blackburn, Liverpool seemed his most likely destination when the transfer window opened, particularly as he had previously let it be known he supported the Reds as a boy. Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez also made clear his interest in the player but, to much surprise, he decided to join struggling West Ham.

The transfer to West Ham not only caused bemusement in the football world but led to flak flying in the player's direction from all quarters. Many pundits were incredulous and openly questioned Neill's motives — and those of footballers in general — as it seemed he had shunned potential glory with one of the country's biggest clubs in favour of playing for a higher wage with West Ham.

Some reports claimed West Ham had offered double the salary Liverpool was prepared to pay.

Liverpool reacted with dismay but Neill hit back saying he made the move for footballing reasons. He claimed he felt he would be unsure of a regular place at Anfield and also said he was very impressed by the Hammers' ambition.

It was not the first time Neill had crossed swords with Liverpool, and his controversial history with the side actually made its interest in him seem strange in the first place.

In 2003 Neill broke the leg of Liverpool's Jamie Carragher with a horrible tackle that also saw him sent off. Carragher was sidelined for six months and the incident sparked a furious war of words between the two clubs because Blackburn and Neill did not immediately offer an apology.

The teams met again a month later and, remarkably, Neill was sent off again. Neill is a popular pin-up in his native Australia. To the disappointment of many Australian women, however, Neill does have a girlfriend. She is Lyndsey, a former model from Great Harwood, near Blackburn. The two have invested together and have properties in Lancashire and Tenerife.

Neill is one of 23 Premier League footballers — according to a recent magazine study — to own a Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE. This powerful, eye-catching 4x4 has a top speed of 130mph and costs around GBP54,500.

FACTFILE Name: Lucas Neill Position: Defender Club: West Ham DOB: 09/03/1978 Australia Caps: 32 Australia Goals: 0 Australia debut: v Saudi Arabia, October 1996 Moment to remember

Neill was outstanding as Australia secured qualification for the World Cup for the first time since 1974 on a famous night in November 2005. The defender was named 'Man of the Match' after Australia came through a gruelling play-off second leg with Uruguay in Sydney to win on penalties.

Moment to forget

Neill's World Cup ended on a sour note as he was harshly adjudged to have fouled Italy's Fabio Grosso in the last minute of their second-round match to concede the decisive penalty. He received some consolation as he was given the Australia captaincy after the tournament.

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