Opinion

What is Harry Kewell doing at the bottom of the English league?

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Harry Kewell is perhaps the most famous Australian player ever, at least internationally. Here is a star who played for some seriously big clubs, appeared in Champions League finals and scored at World Cups. He is now the head coach of a team that finished the curtailed 2019-20 season on rung number 87 of the 92 in the English league.

It is still strange to see him in the fourth tier. This is because the former Leeds United and Liverpool star had the kind of playing career that --rightly or wrongly --usually means that you get to start your coaching journey higher up the pyramid than would be the case for your average journeyman professional.

That career gave Kewell a major advantage when going into coaching.

While walking straight into a Premier League position was always going to be difficult given that the best coaches in the world are working there at the moment, others have found the Championship a realistic option.

Kewell’s former Leeds team-mate Lee Bowyer walked straight into the Charlton role. Scott Parker’s first coaching job was with Fulham, a team that could return to the Premier League on Tuesday.

Kewell’s playing career outstripped that pair. He was a bigger name.

It is probably true that leaving England before the end of his playing career has made it more difficult. It is better for a famous player to move into coaching before the mud dries on their boots. Kewell moved to the edge of the English radar after leaving Liverpool and fell off it completely upon departing Turkish giants Galatasaray.

Perhaps it could have worked had he taken a job in Australia. Had the former winger coached in the A-League --and what an intriguing prospect that would have been --and had success, it could have made for an interesting combination. A player with a successful career and with overseas success as a young coach, there would surely have been opportunities back in Europe.

It is true that football does not always work like that and hindsight does play a part but Kewell’s coaching trajectory is flatter than it could have been. It could also be argued that his nationality is a minus as Australians simply don't coach in Europe -- or don't get the chance to -- but Kewell's reputation was big enough, in my opinion, to have transcended all that.

Kewell may be aware of the risks in taking the Oldham job but becoming the coach of Crawley, as he did in 2017, was also a risk. Once you start in the lower leagues then it is very difficult to break out. As soon as Kewell is at Crawley then his playing career means less. He is the manager of a fourth-tier club first and a former World Cup star second.

The lower leagues of England are brutal for coaches and few last long at one club. A lack of money means that players tend to be on short-term contracts and the constant turnover makes it really difficult to build anything meaningful. Eddie Howe managed it at Bournemouth, taking over that club in a similar position but such stories are not common.

After Crawley, it was Notts County, a historic club that had fallen on hard times. It was short and not sweet for the Australian though those two months plus must have been quite a learning experience.

Now it is north-west to Oldham. While there has been talk of restoring a former English Premier League side to that glory, the Latics are no sleeping giant but a club that had a heady spell in the early nineties.

There may be ambition at Boundary Park (one of the coldest places to watch football in the world) and it is to be hoped that Kewell takes the team back up the leagues because if not, then it is hard to see where, in England at least, he can go from Oldham.

It could be that overseas in the answer. Asia perhaps, a place where Kewell is remembered for a glittering playing career and where any coaching spell in England tends to be looked on positively.

That is for the future, however. Whatever happens, he is going to learn a lot in his new job but that would be the case elsewhere too. A willingness to work in the lower leagues is admirable but it feels like a world-famous player like Harry Kewell shouldn’t be down there in the first place.

Source SBS The World Game