Friday, 5 June 2009
Lucas Neill Obituary
He came, he saw he conga'red - often trying to start the dance by grabbing an opponent by the hips from behind as he burst into the box - recall that penalty against Birmingham! But overall, will Neill be remembered positively or negatively after his two and a bit seasons with the club?
There's no doubting Neill's importance to the Great Escape. The Turds apologists claim that the manager saved us from relegation but there is no doubt in my mind that the inspiration on the field came from Tevez and the leadership off it from Lucas. I well remember the build up to the Charlton game, with Pardew talking about "opportunity" and Curbishley saying time and time and time again, "We have to find a win from somewhere." Pardew instilled hope whilst Curbishley communicated desperation. The 4-0 reverse we suffered was an accurate measure of the influence of the respective managers. After that defeat and the surrendering of two two goal leads against Tootatthem, I couldn't see a way back and nor could Curbishley. The mantra became, "We have to retain hope until it is hopeless" but you could tell from the manager's crushed demeanor that he retained all the hope of Susan Boyle in a beauty contest.
Then along came that Blackburn game and the awards of the goal that never was and a dubious penalty. We won 2-1 and suddenly there was hope. Thanks to Neill. For it was Neill, not Curbishley, who told the world in the aftermath of the game that the Great Escape was on, that hope wasn't forlorn, that there were plenty of points to be played for and that the team was good enough to claim them. I listened to Neill's words and suddenly I dared to hope; I heard Curbishley and I wanted to open my wrists. Neill's glass was half full of champagne, Curbishley's half empty of steaming urine.
Along with Green, Noble, Tevez and the centre back pairing of Ferdinand & Collins, Neill was a giant as we closed in on the most incredible resurrection since Jesus rolled away that stone! Curbishley had killed the patient; but Neill resuscitated it and kept the heart pumping! Without him, we would have sunk without trace.
What followed, however, was a strangely mixed bag. Overall, Neill was poor in 2007 / 08. It was a mediocre season all round and Neill was the grand master of mediocrity, looking slow and undisciplined in far too many games. Remember City's Petrov ripping him apart at Upton Park? Remember his walkabout performance at St James' Park? Remember him going AWOL at the Emirates? Remember him diving in on the half way line against the Mancs before Ronaldo's goal? Remember that penalty against Birmingham? And remember those three consecutive 4-0 reverses? The big question was why he was still in the team. Most agreed he had become a liability and some concurred with me that he was only in the side because Curbishley was scared of him. For Brown and Darling today, read Curbishley and Neill then.
And of course that power was confirmed when Neill led the dressing room revolt against Curbishley in the early weeks of this season. I am still unclear what it was that turned the captain against his manager, but whatever it was, Neill showed all the loyalty of Brutus to his Caesar. "Et tu Lucas, then fall Curbishley!"
In fact, Neill has played superbly this season. Clarke has sorted him out defensively and Zola has used his leadership qualities to the full. He wasn't my choice for Hammer of the Year in the end, but he had a strong case, stronger I believe than the eventual winner Parker.
So, hero or zero? In many respects, Neill was a brilliant signing; along with Upson, the best that Curbishley made. But the big problem with Neill was always his greed. We only landed him because of that greed and unfortunately that greed then became the yardstick for others. Bellyache, Parker, Ljungberg, Dyer - they benchmarked their value against a slightly better than ordinary right back and said, "I'll have a bit of what he's having thanks." And Turds and Egg were stupidly happy to oblige.
Neill has walked out on West Ham but will not join the rogues gallery of Ince, Defoe, Reo-Coker and Bellyache. He came, he saw, he cash-rolled - but he saved our souls in the process. I will remember him with affection.
Posted by Hammersfan at 15:28