The kid was a football freak. Everyone who saw him knew it. Fleet feet, eagle eyes, power in the mainframe, steel in the mind game. Harry Kewell was born to kick on.
On 2010 World Cup eve, Harry again finds himself in the eye of the Australian hurricane. Mark Schwarzer might be the veteran of this Socceroos team, Lucas Neill may be the captain and Tim Cahill the in-form weapon to be unleashed. But all eyes are on Harry.
How did a kid from the western suburbs of Sydney rise so high so fast to become "Australia's finest football export" and, regardless of whether he's playing in England or Turkey, the brightest star and the undeniable face of the sport here at home?
Kewell is a son of Smithfield, an inner-Sydney railway town for timber cutters and wine growers turned industrial heartland. He was born the youngest of three to Rod and Helen and schooled at Smithfield Public and St Johns Park High before his skill with the pill saw his transfer to Westfield Sports High, Australia's first "sports high school".
Kewell played rep soccer early and was in the NSW Youth League team while receiving specialised training with the NSW Junior Soccer Academy. At 14, boy wonder travelled to Thailand, Italy and England with the Marconi Under 14s team for games against junior AC Milan (Sporting Milano) and youth sides in England. While there, Harry attended his first Premier League match as a spectator.
The next year, Kewell was asked back to the UK to trial with English Premiership club Leeds United for four weeks as part of the Big Brother Movement in Australia. Kewell flew out with future Socceroo team-mate Brett Emerton but only Kewell snared a contract due to his father's English heritage, which satisfied the visa requirements.
The same year he ran on for his Leeds United debut, Kewell won his first Socceroo cap. He was just 17 and, at the time, the youngest player ever to debut for Australia. The next year, he played in the Socceroos' World Cup qualifier against Iran and there, at Azadi Stadium in Tehran in front of 100,000 screaming Iranians, Kewell scored his first ever goal in the green and gold to seal a 1-1 draw and edge closer to Australia's second-ever World Cup and their first since 1974.
More than 85,000 fans cheered Kewell onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the sequel. Australia ripped in early and raced to a 2-0 lead, thanks to another Kewell strike. The World Cup was within reach! Then disaster: the witch doctor's curse of 1970 descended: Iran scored once, then again. 2-2. Australia were sunk on the away goals rule and Kewell crash-tackled to earth.
But Kewell's talent never cooled. By the end of the 1999-2000 season, he was rumoured to have been the subject of a £25 million bid by Italian giants, Internazionale. He knocked it back, choosing instead to spearhead with fellow Aussie Mark Viduka in Leeds' charge to the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League in 2000-01.
Kewell moved to Liverpool for the start of the 2003-04 season where his prodigy status was confirmed when he was handed the iconic No. 7 shirt worn by hall of famers Ian Callaghan, Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. But it was a monkey he was putting on his back. Although Kewell became the only Aussie (Craig Johnston was born in South Africa) to win the UEFA Champions League in 2005, in Liverpool's win over Milan, his run of injuries saw him booed off the field by fans crying ‘crock'!
Kewell was also copping criticism at home, where local pundits were pouting that he picked and chose his games in the national strip. But although he missed a few friendlies due to injury, in the big games Kewell always stood up to be counted and when Australia finally qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, it was Kewell who was instrumental. Coming on as a substitute, he turned the game and his successful opening penalty in the deciding shoot-out swung momentum the Socceroos' way.
Australia was the dark horse of the 2006 World Cup but the record shows they took it by storm. Kewell led the way, starring in Australia's victory over Japan and scoring the Socceroos' only goal in the clash against Croatia to qualify for the second round for the first time. Harry won Man of the Match, only the second Aussie to do so at a World Cup (Tim Cahill doing the same against Japan) - all while half-fit and homesick.
Kewell found himself unable to make the Liverpool team after their FA Cup defeat to Barnsley in 2006 and on 5 July 2008, Turkish champions Galatasaray signed him on a two-year deal. He moved over alone, leaving his wife and three young children back in the UK. In Turkey, Harry Kewell was reborn. Having played 93 games for 12 goals at Liverpool, he has scored 27 times in 64 appearances for Galatasaray these past two seasons.
It's the sort of magic Australians and football fans worldwide hope he conjurs on Monday morning when the Socceroos run out against Germany. Despite 22 other Aussies in the squad, all the talk was about Harry - Harry's groin, Harry's fitness, Harry's attitude - that was until the witch doctor's curse struck afresh - back-up goalkeeper Brad Jones returning home after his four-year-old son's diagnosis with cancer. Suddenly, football and even World Cups, paled before life's ultimate goal.
Lightning has struck the Socceroos and it has galvanised them for the greater good. What better time for Harry to step from the hurricane and strike for all Australia's net gain?
Image credit: Kevin Airs used in accordance with aCreative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0
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