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Neill can't escape great expectations

Thursday, 21 February 2013 6:31 PM
 

Neill can't escape great expectations

Sydney FC's signing of Lucas Neill means the latest of the Socceroos' so-called "golden generation" has returned home to play in the Hyundai A-League.

Neill, who has long expressed his desire to experience the A-League before the end of his career, will play out the season with the Sky Blues after agreeing to a short-term guest stint.

While the Qantas Socceroos skipper could play as little as six games for Sydney (depending how far they go this season), much will be expected of him on the field.

Just as with the likes of Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton, Jason Culina, John Aloisi, Tony Vidmar and Tony Popovic before him, the fans will expect Neill to be a cut above.

But as the short history of the A-League has shown, it's not always easy for Australia's best players to return home and immediately live up to the hype.

So what can we expect from the Neill?

Former Socceroos striker David Zdrilic expects Neill to be one of the success stories but warned it will be a step up from where Neill has come from playing in the Middle East.

"A lot of people underestimate the strength of the A-League. It's not just easy where you are going to come from overseas and just walk in," Zdrilic said this week.

"It's easy to have that perception because you're playing at higher levels overseas, especially if you're in Europe.

"But it's still a strong level here, there's more expected of players and add all that together it makes it tough playing in the A-League.

"Then it depends on the team as well ... some are stronger than others.

"He's (Neill) made a good choice, Sydney has been going well recently."

Zdrilic was one of the first Socceroos regulars to play in the A-League, spending three seasons with the Sky Blues starting from the inaugural championship-winning season in 2005/06.

The now SBS TV pundit admits there is intense pressure on the top Australian players when they return home but it's just part of the territory with top-flight football.

"If things don't go well it can be very hard," Zdrilic said.

"I wasn't playing much in that first year and there's more expected of you than perhaps some other players.

"But it's no different to anywhere else and you have to deal with it and I'm sure (Neill) will.

"We've seen with some of the guys that have come back, some have been good and some have been bad.

"But in recent times the clubs have made better decisions on who they pick, especially with marquee players."

Zdrilic believes Neill, who was born and raised in the Harbour City before embarking on a career in Europe as a teenager, is the perfect fit for the Sky Blues.

"Firstly because he's a top quality player and then also it's a position Sydney have needed to strengthen," he said.

"For (Sydney) it's a good choice because they need someone who can hold the ball, play out and sure up the defence because they've got a lot of young kids in there.

"They also conceded a lot of goals early on. It will be good for the Sydney FC defence and the team to have him come in there ... they'll be more solid."

Neill, who will be 36 when the World Cup in Brazil comes around in June next year, has expressed a desire to lead Australia to that tournament.

And Zdrilic has no doubt he can get there, especially if he remains in the A-League beyond his guest stint with the Sky Blues.

"It's the same with Archie Thompson, Mark Milligan. They've all been involved in the national team so there's absolutely no problem with that (playing in the A-League)," Zdrilic said.

"He's got to keep fit, keep playing regularly and the rest will take care of itself.

"If you have a look at what happened with Harry (Kewell), David Carney, you don't want to have that gap (of not playing).

"We need these players playing and playing regularly. To see him in the A-League is a good thing.

"Whether he stays on once his time with Sydney FC is up beyond this season we'll have to wait and see but if he doesn't have options after the season than for sure we'll be seeing him stay in the A-League."

 
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