Opinion: Jury out on Lucas Neill's J.League gamble

The Socceroos' skipper has put pen to paper on a short-term deal in Japan, raising plenty of questions about where he will find himself in the lead-up to the World Cup

Does Lucas Neill know what he's doing?

On the face of it, signing a deal with a team near the top of the J.League table looks like a no-brainer. But dig a little deeper, and plenty of questions arise.

Unlike most competitions around the world, the J.League runs roughly parallel with the calendar year, meaning the season will finish on December 7 and leave Australia's captain back at square one, club-less and with the World Cup in Brazil just over six months away.

The 35-year-old has claimed his decision to join Omiya Ardija is part of a carefully choreographed build-up to the FIFA showcase in South America.

"I have been working to a specific strategy in the lead up to next year's World Cup and this represents the next step," Neill said in a statement released by his management on Sunday.

But there appears to be a distinct whiff of opportunism surrounding the former West Ham and Blackburn man's Japanese adventure.

Omiya, surprise J.League leaders earlier this season, are a club in turmoil. They have lost six matches in succession, conceding 14 goals in the process, and recently sacked coach Zdenko Verdenik.

That nightmare run prompted the local media to examine which defenders with a track record of performing strongly against Japanese opposition were available and - hey presto - up pops free-agent Neill, in the orange shirt of the manager-less Squirrels.

The last we had heard, the centre-back was in North America, and close to joining a Major League Soccer franchise, at least if Australia coach Holger Osieck was to be believed.

Be it MLS or J.League, there is one constant in Neill's search for a new employer. Both competitions run until the end of the calendar year, and it appears the 35-year-old does not believe he is capable of playing a full conventional season in the UK or Europe.

There must have been Championship or perhaps even Premier League clubs who could have been tempted into calling on all those years of experience, but the demands of a gruelling 10-month campaign finishing in May was perhaps a less-than-inviting prospect to the ageing centre-back, whose raison d'être at this late stage of his career is surely to bow out on a high after gracing a third successive World Cup.

So, if a mid-season break is all part of Neill's plan to be fighting fit in Brazil, where will he be playing from January onwards?

One possibility is a return to the A-League, where he struggled to convince with Sydney FC late last season.

If he impresses for Omiya, a contract extension and full pre-season in Japan - either side of a brief loan spell in Australia - could be an option.

Holger Osieck may have publically called on Neill to sort out his club situation, but the coach has already demonstrated the extent of his faith in the experienced stopper and, barring a total loss of form and fitness, is almost certain to pick him in Brazil.

That means the onus is on Neill to ensure he is in the best shape possible when the Socceroos get on the plane to Rio de Janeiro. He claims to have a plan - let's hope it's a good one.

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