Profile 90 Exclusive: Insights from Australia’s Greatest Export
by Peter Harte
The name Harry Kewell is one that, everyone even slightly interested in football recognises, he has won trophies all over the world including the biggest club trophy out there, the Champions League! Harry had a career that began so well and he was taking England by storm with Leeds United. Leeds turned down many offers for Kewell over the years including a substantial offer from Inter Milan. The Australian however would move on to Liverpool and that is where his career highlighted the very highs and lows of being a footballer. Profile 90 had the honour of talking to Mr. Kewell and asking him about his playing career, his mentality during the hard times, and his new managerial career with Crawley Town who are exceeding expectations in League 2.
Crawley are currently sitting 8 points outside the play-off positions in League two heading into the final lap of the season, there is still a chance we may see them at Wembley in May. Harry, however is focused on more immediate concerns.
“It's a big ask, if you’re asking if I think my players are good enough, yes I believe they have the talent and attitude to do it. We were second favourites to go down this year after a bad spell of relegations but, there has been huge improvements. We can look at it as pressure or a challenge, I have great respect for the team being able to work the way I need them to, they accepted the challenge. In terms of moving up the league, it's up to us to push on and get results, we can’t think about where we will be at the end of the season because the next game is always our biggest game and we will continue to focus on that.”
The Australian certainly seems to have developed an effective style with his players early in his managerial career, some of this most certainly came from his years as a top player. How much though, has the game changed since Harry was gathering up records?
“The game has completely changed in lots of ways such and the rules seem to be changing every year. The basics from my playing days are still there but fitness levels are too focused on rather than the basics. Coaches need to keep it simple,” The former Leeds United player continued, “The size, speed and endurance of today's players is phenomenal but, they are missing a lot of the technical stuff. Players need to start working more on the technical stuff rather than lots of skills and flicks like the freestyle footballers. The hardest thing to do in football is the basics.”
Harry however was not saying that flicks and tricks are useless.
“It just seems like the youngsters are trying to be big on YouTube by showing off with, oh look at this trick or that trick”
Kewell commented. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying players should stop doing them (Tricks). The greatest players did their tricks too but, only when needed. They kept it simple the majority of the time,”
Harry knows all about being a youngster trying to make it in the world of professional football, he traveled from Australia to Leeds United at 15 for a trial at the then Premier League club. At 15 one would think the future Champions League winner may find it difficult, quite the contrary.
“I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t worried, I was doing something I loved, and the opportunity came to put myself up against a lot of young English players.” Kewell reminisced back to when it all began. “I enjoyed and thrived on the challenge. I played 1 or 2 games for Leeds United and they decided to sign me, from there I took it as a challenge to step up. Of course, I shed a tear when my parents left for the first time but, after that I put my head down because I knew I had to work hard.”
The Crawley Town manager certainly had the right mindset from the off but, what kind of effect can travelling so far from home leave on the career of such a young kid?
“Well I was always travelling away when I was at home to soccer camps, Mum taught me how to pack properly. I was always away for 2-3 weeks at a time for soccer camps. When I moved to England I was not homesick, I missed parents of course but, I was there to do a job, my Dad and my coach told me I was there to do this job. I was more focused on getting my family over as soon as soon as I made it.”
Before their moves away from home, most players are scouted by scouts sent from clubs around the world. Harry however had a different route to superstardom, that didn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions on the scouting process though.
“I wasn’t scouted, I won a scholarship from my academy that led me to a month with Leeds United and it all went on from there,” Harry remembered. “In saying that, I’ve seen the scouting system here in England, agents are looking after kids from 10 - 14 years old, how can you tell if they’re going to make it at that age, they’re such young kids?! At that age they shouldn’t be pressured with this, kids should be kids because if they were to go next level at that age it's so demanding. They need to live their life first, this stage of scouting is pointless.”
You would be forgiven in thinking that with these passionate views Harry only ever had time for football but, he played a lot of different sports when he was growing up Down Under and he believes all kids should be doing the same.
“Kids should be playing all sports at a young age,” He believes. “I started playing football because of my brother but, I also played golf, cricket, AFL, rugby, swimming, and tennis. Football was my true love but, I enjoyed playing other sports and playing other sports shaped me as a footballer.”
Kewell’s father had a big part to play in him embracing other sports and using them to better his football skills.
“Dad took me out of football for a year to play rugby, I missed football and at first I didn’t understand why but, looking back, rugby taught me how to be stronger in challenges and ride tackles. There was big differences when I went back to football, I could stand the shoulder barge and ride challenges due to the strength I picked up playing rugby.”
There are a lot of advantages in playing other sports, with every sport comes a new way to improve traits, Harry believes that most of the professionals in football have this experience.
“Playing other sports helps with movement patterns and many other traits needed for professionals. I would advise everybody to go out and play other sports because if you ask around you will find out that most of the pros were excellent at another sport,” the former winger explained. “Look at the movement in sports like tennis, it's great for goalkeepers as it involves a lot of quickly shuffling from side to side and quick reactions.”
With his experience in many sports, passion for football, and a contract with Leeds United, Harry needed to make the next step up but, there was competition.
“Leeds was a great set up with very talented young players all wanting the same thing, I grew up with great players in my youth in Australia so I knew you had to do something different to make sure you stood out to the coaches, mostly it was working hard even after training had finished. At Leeds it was everyone practicing even after training, we were all hungry to make it but, it was about who was hungrier, who wanted it more, because we all had talent,” Harry recalled. “It's not just down to working hard though, to make it you’ve got be taught the right way and I was. I always say practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”
All of that hard work paid off when a young Harry Kewell made his first team debut for Leeds in the premier league in March 1996 in a 1-0 loss to Middlesbrough. So what was going through this teenagers mind as he found out he would be pulling on that jersey?
“I was in shock. Usually when we went to the ground the first team went to the dressing room and the younger players sat in the gym. I remember sitting in the gym waiting until the first team were out of the changing room but then I was told, Harry you can come in,” Kewell recalled. “I was sitting in the first team dressing room and I was told I was playing left wing, I thought oh cool” He remembered. “When I got out there the pitch felt like home, it was my house and in my house I was boss. I remember after the game the first team congratulating me and that felt great. I had played Played 81 mins and I absolutely loved it, I wanted more”
1996 was a huge year for the Leeds winger as in April 1996 in a match against Chile, Harry Kewell became the youngest player to play for the Australian National team, it wasn’t all smooth for the youngster though
“Debuting in the biggest league in the world definitely helped me make that step, I had made it into the first team at Leeds and this felt like my reward for it. We ended up losing the game, I wound up playing left back and I will always remember marking Zamorano during a corner and thinking, I’m the youngest here why am I marking Zamorano?” He remembered. “I think he scored from that corner. The lesson I learned from that experience was that it doesn’t matter what age you are, if you’re ready, you’re ready”
Harry Kewell would go on to win the Champions League and the FA Cup when he moved to Liverpool. When his incredible career drew to a close in his homeland with Melbourne Heart, he began making strides into management. Thus far Harry has been exceeding expectations at Crawley Town and we at Profile 90 wish him success in the rest of the season and beyond.