Former Hibs goalkeeper Andy McNeil has been released by Championship side Morton so he can start a new role as the reserve goalkeeping coach for Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F.
It is the latest in a number of colourful moves that McNeil has made in his career and despite making 14 appearances this season Morton manager Jim Duffy has agreed that the 29-year-old can leave now to pursue the opportunity.
McNeil played in Morton’s Betfred Cup semi-final match with Aberdeen at Hampden in November and was due to stay at Cappielow until the end of the season. However it has been agreed that he can move to the side that finished sixth in the Chinese Super League last season and play in the 15,000-capacity Yuexiushan Stadium.
McNeil told the Greenock club’s website: “I have left Morton now as I have the opportunity to go and work as the reserve goalkeeping coach for a team in China. It is not something that I expected and the offer has come out of the blue.
“I do some goalkeeping coaching for Edusport Academy which is run by Chris Ewing, and a representative from Guangzhou R&F got in touch with Chris looking for someone to work with their goalkeepers.
“He phoned me and said I should have a listen to them.”
McNeil added: “I then spoke to the Morton manager about it and he obviously wanted me to stay, but he also recognised it was a unique and pretty good opportunity.
“He was very, very good about it and he just said I should do whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to stay, he would be delighted to keep me because I had played quite a few games in the first half of the season.
“But he also completely understood and said that if I wanted to go and take on this opportunity, he was more than happy to support that as well. It’s not going to be easy but I’m really excited to go there and get started.”
The Edinburgh-born shot-stopper started his career south of the border with Southampton and reached the 2005 FA Youth Cup final however he never played for the Saints first team and joined Hibs the following year, picking up a Scottish League Cup winners’ medal in 2007.
McNeil was released by the Easter Road side in 2009 and played in the Third Division for Montrose before spending a season with Raith Rovers that ended when he travelled to Shenzhen in China to compete for the Great Britain men’s football team at the World University Games.
Stints at Livingston as well as New Zealand sides Waibop United and Hawke’s Bay United followed before he had spells at Airdrie and Alloa, with McNeil using his spare time to become a qualified tree surgeon.
The keeper credits Duffy for persuading him to stay in football following his stint with Alloa. “When I came into Morton in February last year, I had been at Alloa. It had not gone too well there,” he said.
“I was not really actively pursuing anything, however Jim Duffy phoned me up and asked what I was doing. I was not too keen on getting back into football and had no intentions of playing again.
“But Jim changed my mind and I ended up signing and having a really good time. The success the team has had has been fantastic. We just missed out on the play-offs last year, the team’s sitting third at the moment. We got to the League Cup semi-final and had a great day out at Hampden.
“It has been a massive turnaround from where I was at Alloa and I had a really good time with a fantastic bunch of guys.”
McNeil added: “I would not be leaving if it wasn’t for this opportunity. This came up and I felt that I had to do it.”