Why Neill and FFA could learn from Robbie Keane

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I want someone who is honest, who doesn’t mess around, who understands how important it is to be proud to be an international manager, to be proud of what we are trying to achieve in Ireland. Someone who is honest, somebody who has balls, you know … someone who doesn’t take any shit from anyone.
 

Those are the words of Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane, speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Monday in the lead up to the nation’s final World Cup Qualifier against Kazakhstan.

Ireland’s hopes of making it to the finals in Brazil next year ended with a weekend defeat away to Germany and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) recently parted ways with manager Giovanni Trapattoni after five mixed years.

The situation is somewhat similar to that of the Socceroos at the moment – a new head coach is needed, aging players who have served their country well are either on the way out (Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne) or have retired (Shay Given, Damian Duff) and calls have been made loudly for the team to be built around the younger generation (Robbie Brady, James McCarthy).

Unlike Ireland though, Australia is lucky to have a third successive World Cup to look forward to.

Robbie Keane has served his country well and, while not everybody’s cup of tea on the field despite scoring 60 times in a green shirt, there has never been any doubting his commitment to the cause. He’s the sort of guy that you feel would step aside if it was deemed the best thing for the country.

Lucas Neill on the other hand couldn’t have sounded more self-serving if he tried during a press conference ahead of the friendly with Canada in London and has caused a further divide in Australia football.

“The biggest problem in Australia right now is not the older guys who have been there doing it for a long time,” said Neill, immediately attracting the ire of people on social media.

Neill also questioned the desire of the younger players that have been championed for selection lately.

“My question to the younger guys who want to play for Australia is: do you dream of playing for Australia and if you do show me the hunger and the desire,” he said.

Former Socceroo and current Fox Sports pundit Robbie Slater labelled it “Quite possibly, the worst captain’s interview – in a football sense – I’ve ever seen.”, and searching ‘Lucas Neill’ on Twitter is not for the feint hearted.

While Robbie Keane was busy issuing the sort of statement that sounded like he actually cares about the bigger picture, Neill did his best to induce facepalms right across Australia.

Players like Neill have simply become too comfortable in the international set up and now that their worth is being questioned they don’t like it.

The current level of sniping between players, the media and fans is getting out of hand with petty point scoring taking pride of place over the greater good – returning the Socceroos to a level where they are a team the whole nation can get behind.

A direct result of some lackluster performances in the World Cup Qualifiers, Australia’s slide down the FIFA rankings is quite alarming with the September drop to 53rd giving them their worst position for nine years.

Getting to the World Cup had sugar coated a lot of the problems but, as painful as they may have been, consecutive 6-0 friendly defeats to Brazil and France have been coming for a long time and were probably needed.

While the Socceroos is seen as an old boys club with so many of the “Golden Generation” still automatic selections in the squad and first eleven, Robbie Keane’s sentiments that a “no bullshit” manager is required for Ireland is exactly the sort of mentality that should be adopted by Football Federation of Australia when replacing Holger Osieck.

Whether that man is a local such as Ange Postecoglou or a foreign coach like Guus Hiddink is a finer detail, but ultimately Australian football needs someone who will bang a few heads together, including that of Lucas Neill.

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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