The British soccer press has once again taken the opportunity to “bash an Aussie” in lambasting Socceroo star Lucas Neill over his move to West Ham.

Nothing new there. Australian footballers have been on the nose in the Old Dart for many seasons. Kewell, Viduka, Bosnich – our top players have never received due recognition for their deeds.

Kewell is a mercenary waster who feigns injury; Viduka a fat lard who performs only when it suits him – scoring four goals for Leeds against Liverpool, being flogged by David O’Leary for 60-plus games a season and saving Middlesbrough from the drop while helping to steer them to a European final don’t seem to count in his case.

It’s the one sport where the English feel they have an innate superiority over their colonial offspring. Maybe it’s payback for our mocking of their cricketers, rugby league and tennis players (though we might do well to keep quiet on that front in future).

The media and public still view Australia as a third-world football nation, conveniently forgetting the Socceroos outclassed Sven-Goran Eriksson’s near full-strength side 3-1 in a friendly at Upton Park in February 2003 and were much easier on the eye in making the second phase of the World Cup finals in Germany last year than their dreadful team.

Addressing “the greedy, grasping, commercial swamp into which our national game has festered” and the “gluttony of the modern footballer”, Daily Mail columnist Jeff Powell this week described Neill as “the personification of the professional journeyman” following his transfer from Blackburn in a $A180,000-per-week deal.

What a load of tosh. Yes, the money being paid to footballers in England and elsewhere in Europe has become a tad excessive (some would say obscene), but Neill is doing no different to many of his peers in taking what an inflated market is prepared to pay. Why should Powell doubt Neill genuinely had a good feeling about the Hammers and was attracted to their rich history of attacking football?

Powell is wrong. Neill is very much more than a journeyman. He has been a key man at Blackburn for several seasons, the man who has marshalled manager Mark Hughes’ muscular, somewhat defensive game-plan, enabling a comparatively modest club to compete in the top flight with loadsamoney Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.

That Hughes, a tough, uncompromising player during his own stellar career, spoke glowingly of Neill at the time of his departure from Ewood Park, and graciously if reluctantly let him go, speaks volumes. It was an acknowledgement of how much the former Sydney-sider had contributed to Rovers’ continued survival in one of the world’s most cut-throat leagues.

Neill’s performances in Germany last year only enhanced his reputation as one of the best defenders in Europe. The abiding memory of Neill choking back tears after giving away the penalty that allowed Italy to slip through to the quarter-finals should not deflect from his commanding displays throughout the tournament.

If Powell wishes to berate mercenary sportsmen, let him take a swipe at his country’s cricket team. No shortage of journeymen there.

Peter Fray

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