x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Warm welcome for Lucas Neill in hot new home at Al Jazira

Meeting Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Mansour 'blew me away' says the defender, who is relishing challenges ahead.

As captain, Lucas Neilll feels communication could be slightly better at his new club in Abu Dhabi.
As captain, Lucas Neilll feels communication could be slightly better at his new club in Abu Dhabi.

Lucas Neill thought he had seen it all in football. Any player with almost 300 English Premier League appearances and two World Cups would believe that.

That was before Monday night when he and his new Al Jazira teammates attended a VIP ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi in honour of last season's league championship success.

Neill, uncharacteristically, was left speechless as he got to shake hands with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Vice Chairman of the Honorary Panel of Al Jazira, and president of the club.

That was something he did not expect after just a few weeks of living in the UAE.

"The reception at the palace was absolutely amazing. That really blew me away," said Neill, who will face Al Wahda in the Etisalat Cup tomorrow night at the home of Jazira's closest rivals.

"I know how important it is to meet the rulers of the country, and to do that in my first month was remarkable.

"I can't quite believe I got to meet some of the most important people in the UAE almost straight away.

"I could see how much it meant to the local guys and, for me, that's what made it special.

"And they deserved it after the season they had. I did nothing. I was just there, riding on top of their wave and it was a night I will never forget."

The enormity of that occasion has not been the only surprising thing Neill has experienced since arriving in the country.

The 33-year-old Australia captain was unsure about the abilities his new Al Jazira teammates, yet far from being distressed by a lack of quality, he believes one of his jobs as a senior player with unparalleled experience, certainly at the Abu Dhabi club, will be to alert his teammates to how good some of them actually are.

"There are some fine footballers at this club, but there are also players who don't actually realise just how good they are," he said.

"It's up to a couple of us to have a word here and there to say that it's up to them to live up to their potential, because there's a lot of potential in that squad.

"I have been lucky enough to see footballers from all over the world and I played with, and against, some top guys in England, so I know what weapons you need to be good and these guys have got them."

He said that there were a few things that needed to be worked on and perhaps the main one was communication.

"We need to get the instruction side of things a bit better as that makes the game easier," Neill said. "However, in a technical sense, and the style of football they want to play, is great. It's what purists want to watch.

"Although you could argue they want to play too much football at times, that's me learning about them.

"What I would like to say is the guys have made me so welcome. Everyone has come up to shake my hand. Having been a captain myself, I know how important it is to make the new boy feel at home and they have certainly done that.

"All the guys, the foreign and local boys, have made it really easy for me."

But even an Australian has found the end of a Middle East summer a bit difficult to come to terms with.

"The weather is a challenge of its own," Neill said. "Because of the conditions, it has made the pace of the game slower to what I've been used to, and it's meant I have mentally had to adjust.

"I have had to deliberately slow down and that's something that I perhaps didn't expect and I'll need to work on. I'll admit that's a little bit out of my comfort zone. Although I'm sure the pace of games will quicken as the weather cools down."

Neill wants to play for another three years, including the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and believes this move will help him achieve his goal.

After a year with Galatasaray in Turkey, he wanted another life experience and views Abu Dhabi as a perfect fit for him.

"Off the field, it has been amazing. I like seeing the sun every day, certainly after 15 years in England when there were a lot more rainy days than sunny ones," he said.

"I am really enjoying it. Abu Dhabi is great if you want a busy or a quite life, just sitting by the pool. The family is about to move out of the hotel and that will make things easier. So far, everything could not have gone better."

ncameron@thenational.ae


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