Opinion

Why Maguire's record deal offers hope to Aussie footballers

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The British pound may be weaker than the middle order of the England cricket team at the moment but the £80 million ($144 million) paid by Manchester United to Leicester City for the services of Harry Maguire is still an eye-catching sum.

It is a world record fee for a defender, no less, and it is a figure that should give hope to Australian football.

Producing a Lionel Messi, a genius who has shone at the top level for years, is a hard ask for any country but there have been players like Maguire to emerge from Down Under in years gone by.

Producing a commanding centre-back who can play a bit? That is surely something plenty of Asian nations can do and not least Australia.

This is not an article looking at whether the Old Trafford club have overpaid for the English international - only time will tell if that is the case - but the deal shows that good defenders are in short supply and can command huge fees.

For example, is the 26-year-old that much better than Lucas Neill in his prime? In terms of distribution, perhaps yes but neither have or had much in the way of pace. In general however Neill was a fine and consistent defender in the Premier League for almost a decade. 

It is true that as a Blackburn Rovers fan, I do have a soft spot for the ex-Socceroos star (who was unfairly vilified by a section of fans upon his departure), but after joining the Rovers as a raw right-back in 2001, the Sydneysider developed into one of the club’s best value signings.

Neill was a leader and a consistent presence in the Blackburn back four for almost six seasons before going to West Ham United and later Everton.

All in all, he played almost a decade in the Premier League, appearing in almost 300 games in the competition, against some of the best forwards in the world. 

Had things gone a little differently and better decisions had been taken off the pitch, Neill could have gone on to play for bigger clubs.

As it is, he remains one of Australia’s most successful European exports.

What would coach Graham Arnold give for an in-his-prime Lucas Neill right now?

Craig Moore is another centre-back who had a fine career in Europe and would see his value these days going through the roof at some of the famous old stadiums in England, Scotland and Germany that he played in.

Maguire’s transfer provides hope then for young defenders as well as clubs in Australia and elsewhere who know that, if they sell such players, they may be able to ask for a little more money.

The defender’s rise though does show the power of a good FIFA World Cup.

Just a year ago, England were basking in a hot summer, coming down after a thrilling run to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Maguire was a major figure in the rebirth of the Three Lions. That tournament put his fee into the stratosphere -helped by the turbo-charged transfer market and his nationality - and there it has stayed.

Which is why the Socceroos need to be at the biggest tournament in the world.

It is not quite like the old days when it was the only global shop window around, as now there are a myriad of ways for a young talent to make a name for himself.

Yet good performances when the world is watching can take a career up a level or two.

Neill should probably have left Blackburn in the summer of 2006 after starring at the World Cup and with five solid Premier League seasons under his belt. But even so, he had a fine career.

There has been plenty written about the issues in youth development in Australia at the moment but producing players like Harry Maguire should be well within its capabilities.