Ange Postecoglou named his first Socceroos captain today, surprising some in retaining Lucas Neill. The 35-year-old defender has played little since leaving Galatasaray after the 2010/11 season, though he regularly kept his place in the national team set up during Holger Osieck's reign. With Postecoglou now in charge, many believed a change in leadership could come through fellow thirty-something Tim Cahill or in a younger generation's Mile Jedinak or Mark Milligan. Instead, it will be Neill wearing the armband in Tuesday's friendly against Costa Rica in Sydney.
Postecoglou, who would not say for sure that Neill would continue as captain beyond Tuesday's game, defended the decision in a press conference, as quoted in The Age by Michael Lynch:
"[Socceroos games] are all one-offs. I mean, who is guaranteed of being around next time in any position?
"I work in the land of public opinion but I am certainly not going to be governed by it as to what is important and what is not. I know what I will be judged on in the end."
The question for Neill is, if he hopes to retain the captaincy further into more meaningful friendlies in the build up to the World Cup, does he need to make a move for consistent games. Currently, the long-time Millwall and Blackburn Rovers defender is under contract at J-League club Omiya Ardija. With three games left in the 2013 season, the Squirrels are safe from relegation but sit in thirteenth place out of eighteen in Japan's top flight. Without games between early December and early March, Neill could use the opportunity to play during the offseason.
Of course, Neill is not the only Socceroo who faces several months without meaningful games as players based in Major League Soccer and other clubs in Japan and South Korea face similarly timed offseasons. Though to be fair, one is Alex Wilkinson who has never been capped and was a somewhat surprising inclusion in Postecoglou's debut camp.
The easiest move at this point would be a loan or short-term move to an A-League club for several months before the J-League starts back up in March. Last season, Neill played in three games with Sydney FC but there has already been interest expressed by Josep Gombau at Adelaide United. While his contract is up at the end of the season, Omiya Ardija have a club option to retain Neill for a second season. Should they pick up that option, it would be their decision on whether or not a move to the A-League is possible. If they decline, Neill would be free to sign where he pleases. Adelaide have a roster spot available and could add the defender as a Marquee Player if they wished, as Dario Vidosic vacated that position when he moved to FC Sion in the offseason.
The likelihood is that a decision will be made shortly from Adelaide's side as to whether or not they will pursue Neill and if his Japanese club is or isn't involved in those discussions. Though his performances against France and Brazil in Osieck's final friendlies were heavily criticized, it may be a bit unfair to single Neill out when the entire squad failed miserably in those high profile games. If he performs well against Costa Rica, a more reasonably expected outcome, it's possible Postecoglou could encourage Neill to return to the A-League for more than the three games he spent in Sydney.