Lucas Neill has come out of the wilderness to lend his support to a campaign from Australia’s “golden generation”, encouraging soccer Down Under to explore owning its broadcast rights and shifting domestic seasons to align with Asia.
A group of esteemed Socceroos including former captains Neill, Mark Viduka and Craig Moore are urging soccer’s hierarchy to use the coronavirus shutdown to reset the sport in Australia and rethink how it is managed.
“We are not looking to be agitators,” Moore told AAP on Thursday. “We’re looking to be able to support and push the right outcomes to a level where they’re at least getting discussed.
“A reset will happen. It’s when.”
The group, part of the 2006 Socceroos dubbed the “golden generation” for taking Australia to the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, believe soccer is “a little bit stale and certainly needs to be freshened up”.
“There’s a lot of discussion points within the game and we want to be a part of those discussions because we know changes need to occur for our game to move forward,” Moore said.
It will come as a surprise to many to see Neill’s name attached to the movement given he has actively avoided the spotlight for more than five years.
The former defender has rejected all interview requests and essentially went to ground after he was excluded from the 2014 World Cup squad that went to Brazil.
Neill’s disappearance from public life didn’t stop him being in the headlines earlier this year when former teammate Viduka accused the now-42-year-old of trying to undermine the striker when he was named captain for the 2007 Asian Cup.
Viduka also suggested Neill wanted to be captain to help with off-field endorsements rather than any on-field reasons.
Ex-Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou wrote in his book in 2016 Neill threatened to “go to ground” if he wasn’t picked for the 2014 World Cup.
The former Premier League star appears to have made good on that promise and has barely been heard from since. He reportedly now lives with his family in Lancashire, England.
Moore addressed Neill’s inclusion alongside Viduka in the “golden generation” as some of Australia’s best ever players lead the charge to revitalise the sport Down Under.
“Over the last three or four months I’ve had a lot of discussion with Lucas,” Moore told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“He’s as passionate as he’s always been, he has a huge interest in what happens in Australia.
“There’s no issues with anybody in the group. With Dukes (Viduka) and Lucas, the great thing is, they’re people that we know have been away from Australia for a long time and people just think they have no interest because they’ve taken a quieter stance over the last period of time.
“Everybody that’s currently involved, they’re very passionate and across everything we’ve been discussing, and that’s regular.”
The group want administration costs reduced to ensure more funds for grassroots, while discussions about owning future broadcasting rights via a streaming service covering everything from national teams to state and junior competitions should also be on the agenda.
“We understand there’s a broadcast deal in place but, in terms of securing the future of the game, it’s a really good discussion point about how can we have ownership of our game,” Moore said.
“Are we able to find a smarter solution moving forward that gives us a better opportunity to have more control of our content?”
Aligning domestic seasons to coincide with Asian competitions should also be considered.
“Are we brave enough to say … we’re going to align with Asia?” Moore said. “That, to me, is something that would be a huge success because I believe longer-term it’s going to be beneficial for the game.
“It then allows the discussion around promotion and relegation and all those kind of things become a lot closer because the whole football pyramid is in line.”