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Neill's sorry, but his Heart was always in Sydney

DID new Sydney FC signing Lucas Neill break a promise to join Melbourne Heart? They say yes, he says no - and suddenly the scene is set for a sizzling encounter when the two clubs clash on Saturday at AAMI Park.

There are bound to be some frayed nerves this week as Heart coach John Aloisi, previously a good friend of Neill's, comes to grips with the defender back-tracking on his verbal agreement to become arguably the biggest signing in Heart's short history.

While reports emerged from Melbourne about how angry the club were with Neill - club chief executive Scott Munn even declared ''Lucas has probably stretched some long-term friendships'' - the player himself admits he feels sorry Heart believed the deal was done.

''I did give an indication that I would be excited by the opportunity of going to Melbourne. There was never a case of leveraging one club against the other but the opportunity then became very real to join Sydney,'' he said after his first training session with the Sky Blues. ''It was a difficult decision but an easy one from a family point of view, being born and raised in Sydney.

''To the Melbourne Heart board and to John Aloisi and [assistant coach] Hayden [Foxe], I apologise if I gave too much of an indication that I was heading down to Melbourne and I wish them all the best. In an ironic way, I look forward to playing against them in Melbourne.''

Neill further claimed that he did not move for monetary reasons and that he was instead taking a pay cut to join his home-town team.


''We made that very clear that it wasn't financial. I think it's well documented that Melbourne's offer was $100,000, and I've signed for $70,000,'' he said. ''As far as being gazumped at the last minute, there was never a question of money. My intention has always been to come here for football reasons.''

After getting Neill, Sydney coach Frank Farina was delighted to pinch his man away from a top-six rival.

''I actually spoke with Lucas two or three weeks ago while he was still in the Middle East because I'd heard there was a chance he may come back or be looking to come back to Australia,'' Farina said. ''This was not something that happened overnight. From our point of view, when you've got the national team captain in your city, and he is from your city, it was really a no-brainer that we were going to try and get him.

''I'm sure he can bring something extra to us in terms of our battles to try and make the top six in the last six games.''

Neill was unequivocal about what he felt he could bring to the club for the rest of the season.

''I'll bring hunger. I know it's a short period of time. Whatever impact I can make, I'm excited by. Already having one day's training session with the guys. It feels good,'' he said. ''There's definitely a belief and a confidence within the group. When I get my chance, I want to take it. I'm not just here to make up the numbers, I want to push for Sydney to get into the play-offs and from there, anything is possible.''

The big question lingering over Neill concerns his fitness but he described his present level as ''good'' and as being ''very close to being match fit.''

The 34-year-old hasn't decided whether he wants to make the stay in Sydney permanent when the season comes to an end.

''I am [open to staying] but I'm not even going to consider the future because I just want to concentrate on the present,'' he said. ''We've got a very crucial period now for Sydney and then the focus will switch to Australia because it's just as important to get to a World Cup. When we get to the World Cup, we can then talk about the next year.''

Neill said he'd been hugely impressed by the A-League's growth from afar and it helped sway his decision to play here.

''I love it, it's growing from strength to strength,'' he said. ''I always said I wanted to be a part of the A-League in some shape or form. This wasn't planned [to come to Sydney] but I'm delighted I'm here.''