Aussie Premier League Legends: Harry Kewell - 'Great talent, uncertain legacy'

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Harry Kewell tore plenty of defences apart during his time in the Premier League but despite his skills and match-winning exploits, especially at Leeds United, the Australian’s reputation in England is mixed.

Kewell’s European career started so well as he came through the Leeds ranks to make his debut in 1996. 

“He was so young when he came on, he looked like a kid,” James Brown, founder of Leeds Leeds Leeds magazine and former editor of Four Four Two and GQ, told The World Game.

“My thoughts were ‘Howard [Wilkinson] must really like this kid if he is going to put him on so young’ because Wilkinson preferred a more mature player.”

Kewell was to star at the Yorkshire club until 2003, playing over 200 games and establishing himself as one of the stars of the English Premier League. 

He settled and then shone in a young team that was to challenge for honours around the turn of the century before financial issues resulted in the relegation of one of England’s biggest clubs in 2004.

“I think he is one of the most talented players we ever had and sadly I didn’t think he ever reproduced the same level or performance at other clubs as he did at Leeds,” Brown added. 

“There was a confidence in the team at the time and lots of fantastic strikers but Harry had an audacity about him where he would do something very impressive but make it look very natural. If you put together a squad of Leeds top 22 players, for me, he would certainly be in it.”

One of Brown’s best memories of the player comes from May 4, 2003 when Kewell scored a beauty at Highbury to help Leeds, who had lost the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League two years earlier, stay up and stop Arsenal winning the title.  

“His half-volley at Highbury which flashed across Seaman at hip height from well outside the box on the left wing. It was a fantastic goal which was overshadowed by its consequences.”

“If it hadn’t collapsed financially at Leeds, I think they would have won the league as they matured and undoubtedly Harry was the diamond among them all… a player who would rip the opposition apart.”

In the summer of 2003 however, he was on his way to Liverpool and Leeds fans were unhappy to see a star leave but also by the way he left.

“Harry wasn’t popular at Leeds by the end,” said Brown. “The club was in disarray and collapsing financially. Leeds has given Harry his chance and he’d been brilliant but the club made little to no money from his departure.”

Liverpool fans were excited at their new star as former Sport Editor of The Times Tony Evans remembers. 

“Everyone thought he was a good signing and the question was not whether he would be a success but ‘why are Leeds letting him go?’” said Evans.

“Of course, they were having financial problems but everyone at Liverpool was really pleased and thought he would be a really effective player.”

It didn’t quite work out that way. “Kewell isn’t that highly thought of by Liverpool fans for a number of reasons. The likes of Craig Johnston would play through any injury but Kewell felt a bit like Daniel Sturridge. He was hugely talented but many fans felt that unless his mind and body were in sync and at 100% then it seemed like it just didn’t happen.”

It all came to a head in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final as the Australian limped off in the first half as Liverpool took on AC Milan.

 “The 2005 final would be an emblematic moment,” said Evans. “I remember when the teams were announced in the stadium and there was a palpable gasp when his name was readout. Everyone was asking ‘what is Rafa doing?’

Kewell still had two more years in England but was unable to reproduce the form that made his reputation as one of the league’s biggest talents.