Kewell's hoping to create Australian legacy
Harry Kewell's return is not about the World Cup. It's about securing his legacy to Australian football.
Harry Kewell's return to the Hyundai A-League is not about next year's World Cup. It's about securing his legacy to Australian football. He's got a big challenge in front of him.
Kewell is not the answer for the Socceroos as they scramble to be ready for Brazil 2014. He may have a part to play, but he needs to accept that these days he's best in the supporting cast, not in a starring role. Australian football needs to build a future for itself, not cling to its past.
The man voted as Australia's greatest footballer has never quite secured his place as the game's most important player. Primarily, that's the result of a fractious relationship with the local game.
Australian football fans genuinely admire Kewell's achievements for both club and country. He remains, however, a distant figure. Many see him as a player whose self interest overode any other considerations, whose top priority too often seemed focused on the dollar.
Such impressions may be totally at odds with his own reality, but perception is everything. In that regard, up until now, Kewell has done himself few favours. But now he's older and wiser, it seems he's determined to change all that. Those on the inside at Melbourne Heart have told me he's desperate to reconnect with the Australian football family. Good thinking.
Kewell's arrival at Melbourne Victory last year was preceded by protracted contract negotiations that resembled a public auction conducted by his-then manager, Bernie Mandic. Fans grew weary and wary of the player and his motivations. Maybe it wasn't the way Kewell wanted his return to Australia to play out, but he'd become a one man circus.
Magazine spreads, permanent residence in the marquee at the Melbourne spring racing carnival, and poll position in the social pages, re-inforced the feeling that Kewell was here for the fun as much as the football. His arrival was even trumpeted ludicrously by his new club as "the biggest day in Australian sports history".
Then, as Victory's season fell apart under Mehmet Durakovic, Kewell became the focus of frustration - not that he necessarily deserved it. In an otherwise calamitous campaign, Kewell's performances improved weekly. By the end of the season, he was clearly one of the Victory's best players.
Which brings us to the present. Kewell won't be expecting any show of gratitude from the fans in navy blue when he steps out at Etihad Stadium for this weekend's season-opener wearing the captain's armband for Melbourne Heart. Time has moved on, and the start of Kewell's second stint in Melbourne could hardly be more different from his first.
Determined to avoid previous mistakes, he arrived quietly. There were no rock star hysterics at the airport, or grandiose claims at a press conference. It's strictly business for Kewell, whose long-standing relationship with coach John Aloisi has made him immediately feel comfortable. Insiders say he's been re-invigorated by being liberated from the hype. Kewell has always prepared better than almost any other footballer, and his professionalism at training has been a revelation to his younger team mates. Hopefully the likes of David Williams will get a better inkling of what sacrifices are required to make it.
Melbourne Heart couldn't be happier. According to CEO Scott Munn, Kewell has been a revelation: "When we were considering a deal with Harry, everyone was telling me 'buyer beware'. But at our first meeting, he promised to be a positive influence around the club, and he's been true to his word. From the receptionist to the chairman, he's been open, accessible, and excited to be here."