Another sad tale of a highly regarded professional sportsperson who has made some poor financial decisions, which has snowballed out of control. The below was written by Sebastian Hassett, writer for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Robbie Slater knew something wasn’t right with Lucas Neill when he recently sat down for coffee with his old friend, Phil Moss, at Forestway Shopping Centre.

Moss wasn’t sure if indeed it was Neill walking past, given it had been so long since anyone had made contact with him. Ever curious, Slater went to find him and say hello. But, realising he’d been spotted, Neill was in no mood to be found. He made a hasty right-angle into Woolworths.

After a few more steps, Slater, now a commentator with Fox Sports, could see the one-time poster boy of Australian football was absolutely determined to avoid him. He went back to his coffee. But it didn’t sit well. Slater wanted to reach out to somebody he felt he’d previously shared a deep bond with.

“I’ve known Lucas for 20 years. I’ve been on the panel of Lucas Neill Scholarship and even presented it. Yet like everyone, I hadn’t seen him in such a long time,” he said. “I just wanted to see how he was going, as you do. For whatever reason, he decided to hide away. But it’s a familiar story. I’ve since heard he won’t talk to anyone outside his closest circle. I’m really sad for him that this is where he’s wound up.”

Fast forward to last Sunday night, when news broke that Neill had been declared bankrupt in the United Kingdom, despite earning more than $40 million during a glittering career that took in lucrative stints in England, Turkey, the Middle East and Japan.

When the news began circulating at the various A-League grand final after-parties, initial surprise among the football industry was replaced by a universal question: “When did you actually see him last?” Most said it had been at the 2015 Asian Cup, a tournament he was meant to be an ambassador for.

After going six months without contact with the local organising committee, he showed up for the opening game. He then disappeared just as quickly, briefly popping up for an hour in Jordan at the SoccerEx conference. A whole year has passed since.

This past summer, ex-teammates claim to have crossed paths at the Nike store in the Melbourne’s Abbotsford and on Sydney’s Balmoral Beach, close to where he grew up. But it’s understood he was only here on holiday and is already back in England, where he owns a house in Bolton that was recently taken off the market after failing to be sold.

So what happened to the man who seemed destined for a post-football career as promising as his playing career?

“There’s an unbelievably long list of footballers who suffer in silence when it all ends. Remove the lifestyle, the money, the adulation, the adrenaline, the crowds, the team spirit of the dressing room and it’s a huge void,” Slater said. “The key is how quickly you move on and accept your new life. But some can’t and end up with all sorts of problems – drinking, gambling, marriage break-ups. I don’t say it lightly, but you invariably end up with a form of depression.”

Once pilloried in the British press for knocking back Liverpool to sign a lucrative £60,000-per week ($120,000) deal at West Ham, Neill’s off-field vice appears high-risk investments. To the outsider, it’s an odd trail: film syndicates, property schemes, horse racing. But they are among the most familiar to footballers in the UK for their remarkable tax breaks.
The movie industry, in particular, has proven an attractive place to invest, famously outlined by ex-Newcastle footballer Keith Gillespie in his book How Not to be a Football Millionaire. Gillespie filed for bankruptcy in 2013, working out he’d lost over £7.2 million.

Rumours of investments made by Neill in the USA remain unconfirmed. It’s thought he still has property in Australia – once buying in the same Manly apartment block as Tim Cahill. But for all the money lost, it seems apparent Neill remains overcome by his dismissal as Socceroos captain.

“There is no doubt Lucas thinks he should have gone to a third World Cup, should have been the captain and – in his mind – should still be there now,” Slater said. “He was so entrenched that neither Pim Verbeek nor Holger Osieck would dare move him on. But Ange [Postecoglou] didn’t worry about that and Lucas didn’t see it coming.

“He was so attached to the idea of being the Socceroos’ captain that when it was taken away from him, after Ange’s first game, I don’t think he ever really recovered. His whole identity had become tied to leading Australia – and getting to 100 caps.”

Indeed, the running joke about Neill was that he wouldn’t give up the Socceroos’ captaincy until Joe Hockey gave up his North Sydney seat, thus giving Neill a spot at the table many though he’d be occupying right now. But instead of building on the image of himself as the hero of the 2006 World Cup, the lingering memory of Neill, in his last international game, are the boos of his home town Sydney crowd – and his unwieldy return of abuse.

So, can Neill ever recover his status? If indeed he ever wants to?

Mark Bosnich, who successfully completed the greatest public rehabilitation of any Australian sportsman, has no doubt. “I’ve known him since he was a young kid – he stayed in my apartment with his father when I was playing for Manchester United – and I know he’s a really top guy,” he said. “He’s obviously going through a difficult time but I really believe he can get everything back in order. It’s definitely possible.

“Lucas was always very well-connected and a very polished networker. He’s well-spoken, good and I think he’d be great on television if he came back to Australia. It takes time, but people will remember what a great player he was.”

In Neill’s corner are some powerful allies. His best friend in football circles, ex-Socceroo Mark Robertson, remains as loyal as ever, despite Neill’s lack of hands-on involvement in their joint youth coaching venture, Mr Soccer And he’s only ever a phone call away to the big end of town. Phil Wolanksi, former head of delegation with the Socceroos and now Sydney FC board member, was glued to Neill’s hip during his captaincy.

“I reached out to him through some mutual friends [about television work at Fox] but didn’t hear back. I hope he finds time to get back in touch with everyone and to get involved in the game once more. There’s so much he can do,” Bosnich said.

“He’s got too much to offer to just fade away.”

If you’d like help with the planning of your future financial income, and to protect yourself for unplanned circumstances, please don’t hesitate to contact Reg at Acorn Financial Services on 13000-ACORN.

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Reg Grantham

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Director & Senior Financial Advisor | Acorn Financial Services

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