A-League: It’s all about Harry Kewell

Harry Kewell.

A show-pony. A drama queen. The best football player to come out of Australia.

Just the mention of his name prompts the football fan to offer their opinions. It’s impossible not to, given his remarkably high-profile successes and failures. The recent debate over a possible move to the Australian A-League has once more forced even the non-football fans to choose a side of the fence – for or against Harry.

The move didn’t materialise amidst reports Kewell’s salary demands were met by the A-League’s biggest two clubs, Sydney FC and the Melbourne Victory, but his requests to the Football Federation Australia (who administer the league) were not. Those demands allegedly included a percentage of the gate for increased attendances his appearance likely would encourage. His manager Bernie Mandic last week nixed any possible return to Australia, saying 32 year-old Kewell would pursue further European opportunities.

The reaction from Joe Public was almost overwhelmingly negative, prompting the hashtag #KewellALeagueDemands to trend on Twitter as amateur wits made increasingly ludicrous requests. Australians, never the most patient or forgiving of peoples, have very little time for “it’s all about me” types. It was taken in fun by Kewell and his wife Sheree Murphy, but still exemplifies the scorn such demand generated.

And more than any other combination of four words – more even than “Injury plagued Aussie footballer” the words “It’s all about me”, define Harry Kewell. At seventeen he was the darling of the Australian soccer community with two goals in the World Cup qualifying playoff loss to Iran (hardly an upset as the partisan video suggets), he married the soap-star princess and played, sorry, rehabbed for one of the world’s great clubs, Liverpool, in a country where the cult of celebrity is worshipped by many above almost all else.

How else would you describe him after his comments concerning a galling red card in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? “The guy has killed my World Cup” doesn’t reflect his unavailability despite an obvious important role for the Socceroos, but how it affects Harry. Mandic shouldn’t be blamed for his role and neither should Kewell – Mandic is just doing his job, while as a football-hungry public demanded identification, home-grown Harry was our best association with the World Game and thus the unholy combination of Australian expectation/respect and English tabloids created the persona Harry Kewell now proffers.

Who are we to blame a young(ish) man for wanting it all? A family life AND a well-paid football career – sound familiar? It should, because it’s nearly exactly the same situation as the latest Carlos Tevez dilemma, only in reverse. Kewell is content with family life – indeed, Australia would be preferable to Turkey, Russia or even Germany – but isn’t able to meet his financial demands. And while Tevez’s constant “Look at Carlos” act has worn thin and his methods are dubious, Harry’s act is walking a similarly fine line.

By asking for a percentage of any increased gate takings, Harry Kewell and Bernie Mandic are asking for a degree of responsibility that few have shouldered in the fledgling competition. Indeed, while Archie Thompson, Nicky Carle and most notably Robbie Fowler have tried to lift the competition on their shoulders, only Dwight Yorke has managed to do so successfully. The combination of responsibility doesn’t usually rest well on the shoulders of someone whose first priority – and he’s hardly alone in this – is himself.

In a business based on exposure, both Kewell and Tevez benefit from their profiles; Tevez also so through his talent. Harry Kewell has become the object of scorn because his profile appeals to a much smaller population: that of Australia, England and possibly Turkey. It is only right he should seek the best deal for himself within that market.

And the FFA is perfectly within it’s rights to refuse to accommodate those demands. Partly because even Kewell’s salary would further imperil already-struggling A-League teams and therefore further payments based on increased attendance would make even less fiscal sense. It just isn’t good business for Ben Buckley and his offsiders and so the likelihood is you’ll see Harry next pop up in the hoops of Celtic, Queens Park Rangers or Kayserispor.

It’s almost certain that Harry Kewell will perform a valedictory tour in the A-League, displaying as a marquee player some of that dazzle which won him so many admirers so long ago. It would be good business sense to do so – but not for another contract period or so, while bigger dollars, less expectation and better competition await. With those business aspects kept firmly in mind, the chances of Harry Kewell joining the A-League this year were never great, but the publicity certainly was.

Matthew Wood regularly contributes to Soccerlens.  Shoot across to his blog, Balanced Sports for more commentary and analysis, or follow him on Twitter @balanced_sports

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