Neill to face Heart in grudge match
His apology won't help mend a broken Heart and Sydney FC's new star recruit Lucas Neill is certain to face a frosty reception when he makes his A-League debut in Melbourne.
The Socceroos skipper apologised to Heart coach and former Socceroos teammate John Aloisi on Sunday for his last-minute switch to join rivals Sydney FC instead but, contrary to reports, insisted money had nothing to do with the move.
The 34-year-old looked certain to join Heart after being released by United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl a fortnight ago.
But a late bid by the Sky Blues swayed the veteran Sydney-born defender to renew his ties with former Socceroos coach Frank Farina.
The news of Neill's move on Saturday would have compounded an already bad week for the Heart who'd slumped to a 2-0 loss to Newcastle a day earlier.
Neill, who signed for just the rest of this season, dismissed rumours he walked away from the Heart for a bigger pay cheque, revealing he'd signed with Sydney for $70,000 instead of accepting the $100,00 on offer at Melbourne.
He admits he's open to a longer stint at Sydney but says after hopefully helping them secure a finals berth, he'll turn his attention to Australia's crucial World Cup qualifiers.
"I'm not going to even consider the future now," he said.
"When we get to the World Cup then we can talk about the next year."
After climbing to fifth spot with a 2-1 win over Adelaide on Saturday Sydney will look a formidable team at AAMI Park next weekend when Neill lines up alongside Italian superstar striker Alessandro Del Piero and Socceroos teammate Brett Emerton, who returns from suspension.
And while he appreciates the irony of making his first outing against the Heart, the crowd may not.
"To the Melbourne Heart board and to Johnny Aloisi and (assistant coach) Hayden (Foxe) I apologise if I gave too much of an indication that I was heading down to Melbourne," he said on Sunday.
"In an ironic way I look forward to playing against them."
Farina revealed he'd contacted Neill weeks ago upon hearing he was interested in returning to Australia.
"When you've got the national team captain in your city and he's from your city it was really a no-brainer that we were going to try and get him," he said.
When asked if Neill will start against the Heart Farina's response was simple: "He's here to play.
"I wouldn't sign the Socceroos captain if he wasn't going to play."
Melbourne Victory meanwhile will be looking to rebound from their 2-1 loss to Western Sydney on Saturday when they face the table-topping Central Coast in what is shaping as a blockbuster encounter in Gosford next weekend.
The Wanderers climbed to within a point of the Mariners with the win and will get the chance to claim top-spot when they face Perth.
The Glory revived their finals hopes staging a remarkable 2-1 win over the Mariners on Saturday to move within two points of the top six.
Rounding out the weekend's play Brisbane lifted themselves into seventh spot with a 2-0 win over bottom-placed Wellington on Sunday evening.
The Roar have a better goal difference than Melbourne Heart with both teams sitting two points out of the top six.