Lucas Neill will not represent Australia at this year’s Brasil World Cup. Coach Ange Postecoglou has given him his marching orders – and the 36-year-old will likely never represent his country again.
Neill is the latest in a long line of Australian soccer players who have sacrificed their reputations in a desperate bid to play on the game’s biggest stage.
This trend is not confined to football. We’ve seen cricketers go that extra year or two in their bid to “bring the Ashes home” and “go out on top.” We saw a bloated Ian Thorpe attempt an ill-advised comeback ahead of the 2012 Beijing Olympics, but fail to get himself back into shape.
Is a reputation worth sullying for that final moment of glory?
When a legendary player is left out of a (30 man!) national squad after working hard – probably harder than ever before – for their final shot, we feel immensely sorry for them. It’s a race against the clock; against father time – and, thus, it forces us to reflect on our own mortality.
Really, it’s quite depressing to see men – who, in any other context are in the prime of their lives – fight off criticism that they’re past their best in order to simply get a spot on the touring party alongside the latest batch of 21-year-old Next Big Things.
Career lifespans in sport are seriously short. It’s kind of like how things were for humans during the Middle Ages. Modern advancements in medical science have ensured that killer diseases/pandemics such as polio and the black death are no longer a threat. As such, we all enjoy long and fruitful lives/careers.
However, athletes (given their shorter lifespans) are still susceptible to instant career killers like injury, form slumps and ‘being dropped suddenly.’ And no amount of modern science, despite what Stephen Dank will have you believe, can prevent you from simply falling out of favour with the selection panel, or suffering an unlucky career-ending Achilles injury (unless you are Kobe Bryant, in which case you fly to Germany for illegal experimental surgery and are back in the court within months).
I am 28 years old, but if I were an AFL/NRL player I would be really, really hyper-aware that I’m only one serious injury away from “serious question marks hanging over Edwards’ future.”
There’s something sad about sportsmen needing to have that final swansong. Life isn’t a fucking ticket tape parade, but nobody seems to have imparted this valuable advice to professional athletes.
When I eventually retire from whatever the fuck it is I’m doing in 40-50 years, it will be sudden – and without fanfare. One day I will just cease to work.
I will not try and make that last business conference in Hawaii in order to “go out on the right note.” Granted, by then I will be 70+ (assuming current proposals to lift the retirement age are passed) and probably not keen on a loose business trip to Waikiki.
Sure, it would be nice to be acknowledged by my peers for my hard work, but I won’t need to accomplish anything more, professionally. I certainly won’t need to “clinch that last deal,” or wrap up my months of hard work on the Penske file, to feel any sort of closure.
But perhaps I just don’t understand the mindset of the professional athlete (although I think I do). Perhaps I just don’t have that competitive zeal and win-at-all-costs spirit that defines the professional athletes, separating them from the rest of us.
And that’s why sport is so enthralling, so ridiculous; it’s also why we keep coming back for more. The sheer pantomime of sport is fascinating – and like bored Latina housewives, we buy into this character-driven drama every single time.
All that aside, though, Lucas Neill should probably have been dropped before the 2010 World Cup.
By Dave Edwards