Filthy Lucre Lucas

Posted by Number 9 on January 25, 2007, 10:18:43 AM

So Lucas Neill has finally completed his £1.5 million move to West Ham. Yes, that’s right, West Ham who currently sit second from bottom in the table. Of course, Neill claims, he made the move for purely footballing reasons and a PR offensive to match that used in the defense of Jade Goody has kicked in to put forward this slightly unbelievable standpoint.

Following last summer’s World Cup, it had seemed inevitable that, at some point, Neill would leave Blackburn to ‘further his career’. Rafa Benitez expressed an interest last august and pursued the player right up until midnight on deadline day.  Only his reluctance to part with Stephen Warnock prevented the deal going through. However, a consistent start to the season ensured that Rafa would return to the negotiating table when the transfer window reopened in January and everyone fully expected a deal to be swiftly concluded.

West Ham, however, desperate to escape the relegation mire, fancied trying their luck and dangled a very tempting carrot in front of Neill. £60 thousand a week is quite a carrot! In fact, it’s somewhere between two and three times what Liverpool were reportedly offering. According to Neill however, his love of carrots had nothing to do with his decision to choose the East London outfit over Champions League football and a late push for the title at Anfield. ‘Anyone who thinks I joined West Ham simply for money is way off the mark’. Apparently, It was West Ham’s determination to sign him, and Rafa Benitez’s perceived reluctance that pushed him towards Alan Curbishley’s side. That combined with guaranteed first team football and West Ham’s fantastic history, which on planet Neill is comparable to Liverpool’s 18 league titles and 5 European Cups.

I won’t be the first and nor shall I be the last person to suggest that there is something in Neill’s claim - that his decision was neither motivated by money nor symptomatic of a lack of footballing ambition - that defies belief.  Neill was guaranteed first team football at Blackburn who lie eight places above West Ham in the table and are well within reach of a UEFA cup place. Mark Hughes had made Neill his captain. He was the team’s talisman and would have been adored by the fans had he only considered extending his contract at Ewood Park.  Arguably, Hughes wanted Neill to stay as much, if not more than West Ham desired him to come.

As for the claim that Rafa had not pursued Neil with sufficient fervour. He fought for his signature right up until midnight on deadline day, came back in for him in January, negotiated a deal with Blackburn and discussed personal terms with Neill’s representatives. All this, however, lacked the personal touch that Neill was looking for, as he claimed last night that he might have signed for Liverpool, if only Rafa Benitez had bothered to pick up the phone. Even if we accept Neill’s version of Liverpool’s perceived rejection (something that Rick Parry was quick to refute), it beggars belief that he joined West Ham for footballing reasons alone and that money had nothing to do with it.

"People have questioned why I signed for West Ham and not Liverpool but I don't understand that. Yes, Liverpool is a great club with a fantastic history but, equally, West Ham have produced people like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds over the years. If West Ham was good enough for those guys, then it's good enough for me.

"If people want to insult my decision to play for West Ham, then they are insulting some of the greatest players the game has produced, including the three men who led England to the World Cup in 1966."

So West Ham’s glorious past is comparable to Liverpool’s because they produced one truly great player and four very good ones. They didn’t win a lot, but they had some good players!  And apparently, it’s an insult to these players to question Neill’s decision to join their club. Had Neill decided to go and play for Blackpool for 60 grand a week, presumably it would be an insult to the great Stanley Matthews to suggest that he went there purely for the money!

But of course, this is a slightly unfair comparison. Blackpool aren’t about to embark on a gargantuan shopping spree to rival that of Abramovich’s Chelsea. According to Neill, West Ham’s shopping list ‘blew him away’. Well, of course we’re not privy to this information, but we can speculate as to who might be on this list by looking at who West Ham have been linked with since the transfer window opened three weeks ago. There’s Mathew Upson, the rock at the heart of Birmingham’s relegated defense. And there’s Ashley Young, The gifted forward whose goals haven’t quite managed to lift Watford off the foot of the table.  Young has since rejected West Ham in favour of Aston Villa. Insert old head on Young shoulders pun here! We can only speculate as to who else may have been on this list. One thing’s for certain. Having seen this list of players, Neill was so confident in West Ham’s ability to avoid relegation that he had a clause inserted into his contract releasing him should the unthinkable happen and West Ham go down.

Like most fans, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that money was not the prime motivating factor behind Neill’s decision to snub Champions’ League football in favour of a relegation struggle with West Ham. Maybe, he did feel rejected by Liverpool when they refused to come close to matching West Ham’s offer. It’s a safe bet however, that had West Ham offered 30 grand, instead of 60, Lucas Neill would be a Liverpool player now, challenging Steve Finnan for a first team place. As it is, he’ll probably be playing for Newcastle next season!

© Toby Davis 2007

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