THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Australian striker back in A-League

icon australia202214 July ~ Harry Kewell's second coming to the Australian A-League hasn't attracted quite so many headlines as his signing for Melbourne Victory in 2011. But his decision to join cross-city rivals Melbourne Heart is a gamble for both the player and Australian football's second-youngest expansion club. For Kewell, who has rarely been sighted with a football let alone anywhere near a pitch since leaving Victory in 2012, a successful twilight season in the A-League could be enough to put him in contention for a place in the 2014 Socceroos World Cup squad.

Still regarded as one of the best players Australia has produced, Kewell has only played three games for Qatari side Al-Gharafa in the past 12 months and has much to prove if he wants to head to Brazil next summer.

Melbourne Heart, meanwhile, will be hoping that some of Kewell's star quality rubs off on both the squad and the attendances at the AAMI Park. The club have yet to trouble the higher reaches of Australian soccer since their inception three seasons ago, with only one post-season finals appearance to date. Last season John Aloisi's men only avoided finishing bottom on the final day thanks to goal difference. But it's off the pitch where Heart have struggled, with attendances averaging just over 8,500 last season – boosted by the 26,427 who watched the Melbourne derby against Victory. Without this cross-city game, the average would have dipped below 7,000, while only 4,505 turned up to watch their tenth match of the season against Perth Glory.

In truth, Heart are a team still struggling for identity. Unlike in Sydney, where the support-base for the city's two sides is clearly defined in both geographical and cultural terms, there's little to set Heart apart from the more successful and well-established Victory. The rivalry between the two sides may be fiercely contested but beyond this there's little to identify what Heart as a club actually stand for. Meanwhile, former National Soccer League side South Melbourne continue to push their own A-League ambitions, which included a rejected $3.5 million (£2m) takeover bid for Heart earlier this year.

Heart's youth policy is strong but this doesn't attract the casual spectator and while the club is stable it doesn't have the financial muscle to sign a major name such as Alessandro del Piero, currently of Sydney, or even match Norwich's valuation of Grant Holt. Which is why the 34-year-old Kewell, still a big name to the Australian public but available on reduced wages, is their best hope of drawing higher crowds.

Should the Socceroos star play a part in pushing Heart into the 2014 finals and cement his own World Cup spot, it would be a perfect conclusion to a career. More realistically, though, both sides will just be praying his fitness holds up for the duration of the season. Gary Andrews

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