SOCCEROOS captain Lucas Neill is on the hunt for a club in the A-League – and may have found a suitor in the form of Melbourne Heart.
Neill, who turns 35 next month, was dumped by Al Wasl a fortnight ago, making it the second time in a year that a club in the United Arab Emirates has released the defender.
Now Fairfax Media understands that Neill's management has decided to focus on winning a deal in the A-League, with the hope that terms can be struck with a team before the season is out.
Four clubs were rumoured to have seriously contemplated Neill's signature – Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Central Coast and Melbourne Heart.
However, it appears only the Heart have been serious enough to carry through with negotiations and could strike a deal as soon as this weekend.
Heart football operations manager John Didulica confirmed that the club was looking to bring Neill to the A-League and that coach John Aloisi would further elaborate on the plan in a press conference at 2pm today.
"In short, we are interested, yes," Didulica said. "Has a deal been done? No."
It's thought that Football Federation Australia would be willing to help fund any club who brings Neill back to Australia, given the player's iconic stature in Australia after playing in two World Cups and making 89 appearances for the national team.
He reportedly earned $800,000 after tax for his most recent year in the UAE, far exceeding what any A-League club would be prepared to pay.
However, Neill's asking price is thought to be significantly lower than what he wanted when courted by A-League clubs in the past two years, with several industry sources claiming his management asked for marquee wages in excess of $1 million per season – similar money earned by fellow returning stars Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell.
Melbourne Heart's defensive stocks have been hit hard in the past 12 months, losing Curtis Good, Michael Marrone and Aziz Behich. Dutchman Marcel Meeuwis put pen to paper for the rest of the season this week and now Neill is expected to follow suit.
While the Sky Blues were previously thought to be the club most interested in the ex-West Ham skipper, Frank Farina - who spent six years as Neill's national team coach from 1999 to 2005 - has instead decided to stick with his current defensive combination for the rest of the season.
Injuries and suspension reduced Sydney to playing Rhyan Grant at centre-half in one particular match but they now have Sebastian Ryall, Adam Griffiths, Tiago Calvano, Trent McClenahan and Nathan Sherlock all available.
Central Coast might have also seemed a reasonable fit, especially given that Neill grew up on Sydney's northern beaches, but they, like Sydney FC, decided to stick tight with their rock-solid combination of Trent Sainsbury and evergreen Dutchman Patrick Zwaanswijk.
Brisbane Roar coach Mike Mulvey put to bed last week any suggestion that Neill was a contender to head to Brisbane, saying "we've not made any approach or been approached with regards to the situation".
"There are no legs in this whatsoever," Mulvey said. "Our transfer dealings were done once we signed [Dutch striker] Stef Nijland."