Blackburn, Boro and Swindon interested
9 July ~ Harry Kewell is back on the transfer market. The 33-year-old Australian has called time on his stay with A-League side Melbourne Victory to return to England to support his wife, who is nursing her seriously ill mother. He would like to restart his football career in England. "Chequered" would be most people's adjective to describe that career. He started out with Leeds United, making his debut as a 17-year-old in 1995. Five years later he was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year.
Pace and directness made him arguably the outstanding player in an exciting young Leeds team, where he played a key part in the club's passage to the Champions League semi-final in 2001. His left-footed strike in a 3-2 victory over Arsenal in 2003 seemed to capture his potential and, perhaps, that was a high-water mark for him and that Leeds team.
With mounting off-field problems, Leeds sold Kewell to Liverpool for £5 million before the start of the 2003-04 season. The transfer characterised much of his career and his agent Bernie Mandic's approach to negotiation. There was huge speculation about who would sign him, with Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan and Chelsea reportedly interested.
There was little doubt that Kewell was a player who knew his own value and his own mind. Mandic said the player "had shown a ruthless business sense from an early age". The transfer was shrouded in controversy; Kewell was critical of both his former team-mates and Leeds, who released a statement suggesting they received only £3m of the fee paid by Liverpool.
In many ways, his time at Liverpool defines Kewell's career. Fellow Australian Craig Johnston greeted his signing as the most important since Kenny Dalglish and the way he started the season seemed to justify the optimism. But by early 2004 he was out injured. By the end of his career on Merseyside his roll call of injuries read like the index of an anatomy textbook: groin, knee, thigh, ankle and foot. Rafa Benitez neatly summed up the situation: "One day Harry is OK, the next he says he is unfit."
One episode seems emblematic of that period. Benitez shocked everybody by recalling Kewell for the 2005 Champions League final, only for the player to limp off after 20 minutes. The reaction to his injury from fans and the press stung Kewell. As recently as 2010, Mandic offered outspoken criticism of the medical care the player had received in England.
A move to Galatasaray in 2008 attracted further controversy. His time in Turkey was relatively successful. Inevitably, his return to Australia at the end of his contract was mired in press speculation about his eventual destination and the financial details of the move.
Kewell's time with Melbourne Victory provides yet another neat summary of his career. On the pitch, he proved reasonably successful and popular. A year into his three-year contract he exercised a right to renegotiate its terms. The timing of his decision to return to England – with agreement on a new contract close – "blindsided", in the words of the Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun, both his club and his management. Yet again, Kewell showed himself to be a man who knows his own mind.
The English press seem confident he will sign for Blackburn Rovers, whereas the Lancashire Telegraph, Blackburn's local paper, regards the move as "highly unlikely". Middlesbrough and Swindon Town are also in the frame. Wherever he ends up, the club will get a player notoriously prone to breakdowns. But also one who scored that goal against Arsenal. Brian Simpson