Neill waves bye bye to Hammers

WHATEVER your view on the impending departure of West Ham skipper Lucas Neill, there is one thing that cannot be denied - he played an integral part in the Hammers Great Escape in 2007, writes DAVE EVANS. The 31-year-old Australian turned down a new co

WHATEVER your view on the impending departure of West Ham skipper Lucas Neill, there is one thing that cannot be denied - he played an integral part in the Hammers' 'Great Escape' in 2007, writes DAVE EVANS.

The 31-year-old Australian turned down a new contract offer from West Ham last week and declared himself on the way out of Upton Park, while his leaving will be greeted by mixed feelings from the Hammers faithful.

On the one hand, he has been a strong leader on the field, willing to get stuck in both physically and verbally to help the West Ham cause.

On the other, he could look pedestrian during a game; he could be roasted by wingers and sometimes looked shaky when reverting to his back-up role as centre half.


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His sometimes surly nature off the field did not endear himself to everyone either and you sometimes felt, that as captain of the club, he could have done more.

That is by the by however. According to Neill's agent Darren Jackson, the full back was keen to stay at Upton Park for one final season.

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"Lucas is very disappointed," insisted Jackson. "He did hope to stay at West Ham and he has enjoyed his time there.

"West Ham felt their offer was fair, but it was significantly less than what he was currently earning, so we didn't feel it reflected his value to the club considering his performances."

Many fans though would consider that the cut-price offer reflected exactly what the player was worth considering his performances.

Neill, who arrived for a bargain �1.5million from Blackburn in January 2007, never again reached the heights that he attained in those first few months at Upton Park as the team averted relegation.

Trips to Australia and the middle east with his country did not help his mental fitness either and though manager Gianfranco Zola was keen to keep him at the club, it is not a disaster that he is leaving, in the way that it was a disaster to lose Craig Bellamy.

Technical director Gianluca Nani will now target a replacement as one of his main priorities, with French defender Rod Fanni seemingly heading the list.

The 27-year-old, who plays for French outfit Rennes, has made two international appearances and is widely regarded as an impressive attacking full back.

His agent, Dominique Six, confirmed the Hammers interest.

"We have been in talks with several clubs including West Ham which is an interesting option to Rod," he said.

"He is crazy for English football and I know that he would be delighted to be playing his football there."

He continued: "I have no idea whether West Ham have made a concrete offer to Rennes, it's business between clubs, but what I know is that the player is keen on the English market."

One other option for the Hammers is the prospect of signing Middlesbrough defender Matthew Bates.

The 22-year-old is out of contract at the end of the month, and though his age means that a fee will still be involved to transfer the player to Upton Park, his experience in the Premier League may well be a deciding factor in bringing him down to London.

For Neill though, it is the end of the road after 89 appearances in claret and blue.

When he first arrived there were many who suggested that he came for the money after turning down Liverpool and a place in Europe.

Now, on his departure, we can say it was a lack of money that has seen him out of the Upton Park exit door.

But if Nani can find a replacement in the same mould as Herita Ilunga, then Neill's reign at the club will be soon forgotten.

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