I must have missed something about Harry Kewell’s impending move back to the A-League.
Reading much of the local press, it would appear it’s an awful set of circumstances: a greedy player wanting to wring the final few dollars from the league - an ageing performer who can hardly get off the treatment table.
I can scarcely believe what I’m reading. The Harry Kewell deal is immensely positive for the A-League and a phenomenal boost for the profile of Melbourne Victory and the competition, particularly in a domestic context.
All of Australia knows Harry Kewell. His name bares the highest recognition of any of our present or former players. Kewell’s an inspiration to every kid who plays the game and importantly, a fantastic attraction for any who have not yet discovered the beauty of football.
Who wouldn’t want to be Harry Kewell? At 32-years-old, he has travelled the world, he is one of only three Australian legends to reach the pinnacle of the club game - the UEFA Champions League - he is married to a gorgeous actress, he has fans in every corner of the world and has won more than half a century of caps for his country.
But jealousy is a curse and it seems to me there’s a fair bit creeping into the current media coverage when it comes to Harry Kewell. It appears some unresolved personal issues are clouding peoples’ judgement.
For someone who has been an extraordinary performer for Australia, whether as the 19-year-old who scored in each of the Iran games in 1997, or as our best in the 2001 World Cup qualifying series, or as the game breaker against Uruguay in 2005 at Telstra Stadium, or as the experienced pro who bagged the match-levelling goal against Croatia after another brilliant performance, or at the 2011 Asian Cup. Harry’s been there when it mattered most.
He is the player Australia can count on in the big situation.
I often revisit the key moments of the 2006 World Cup during my school trips and talk to the kids about the character traits behind the players, about what sets champions like Harry and Schwarz, Lucas and Timmy apart and about the lessons from their careers that kids can use to achieve results in their lives.
Harry, naturally, features prominently in these presentations and is always a popular choice. One moment stands out; when Harry stole in behind the defence to finish off a beautiful Marc Bresciano cross at the back post against Croatia to level the match and send Australia through to the Round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What an amazing achievement.
I’ll never forget the commentary at that moment from my former colleague, Simon Hill, who said: 'And the golden boy comes up with the golden goal. Oh, it just had to be Harry."
That’s right, I tell the kids, Simon was spot on. It did have to be Harry, the one who is always able to come up with the big play in the biggest moment.
Now, he’s elected to come home.
We should be supportive and applaud him for what is essentially an act of bravery. For, while the game has everything to gain from his image, his presence and his pulling power, he has everything to lose.
When Kewell’s manager, Bernie Mandic, says that Harry genuinely wants to give back to the local game, I believe it, because the only person who has plenty to lose is Harry.
Think about it. He’s extremely wealthy, famous, a legend here already and can easily get a hugely lucrative contract in the Middle East for a couple of years to prepare for 2014 and try to stick around until 2015, as Lucas Neill has done.
More power to Lucas, who has chosen a route that he believes will reward him not only financially, but competitively, with the best opportunity to stay fit and healthy to achieve the goal of playing in three World Cups.
Harry could easily have done the same and not risked his legacy in Australia.
As it is, he is going to play in a league in which he has never played, under a coach who is untested, with a press pack filled with scribes who have a history of negativity towards him.
Coming back only opens Harry up for more criticism. The only way he can avoid it is to stay fit, which is never a guarantee for any player, particularly when he will be a huge target every time he plays.
Every Socceroos player knows the story of how John Aloisi was mistreated and blamed at Sydney FC. In the end, this would have been a factor in the club’s inability to sign Harry.
The great players ask why they shoukd return only to be blamed and criticised if things don’t go well? Whether you agree with their decision or not, they’re certainly right to ask the question.
Aloisi was always going to succeed because class and quality does not disappear overnight, but the environment can make things difficult for even the greatest players.
Harry has chosen well in a club with consistency and a strong squad. The guiding presence of former teammate and mate, Kevin Muscat, will have been a major factor in the decision.
I applaud Harry’s decision to come home. Reports say he has accepted much of the contract risk and, if so, fantastic, but there are far greater risks than monetary for a player worth tens of millions of dollars, and that is his very reputation itself.
For Harry to put it on the line to play back home is a gesture of class and immense courage. As I often tell the kids, this is what defines champions.