Sunday 13 July ~
Harry Kewell is not a player who inspires affection, in England at least. His transfer from Leeds to Liverpool in 2003 led to accusations that his agent, Bernie Mandic, was not licensed by FIFA, and had pocketed a large slice of the fee. He left on bad terms, having accused medical staff of making his injuries worse. He settled out of court after suing Gary Lineker for comments about the transfer, which Kewell’s solicitor said made his client out to be “a knave” (possibly not the most damning accusation of the 21st century).
At Liverpool Kewell attracted bewilderingly harsh criticism for the perception that he succumbed too easily to injury, particularly after his substitution early in the 2005 Champions League final. The blame for that should surely have been directed at Rafa Benitez for selecting him. Now Kewell is again under attack from some Leeds fans over his move to Galatasaray, on the basis that he should not play for the team whose fans were responsible for the deaths of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight in 2000. Ray Fell, the chairman of the supporters club, called it “callous, uncaring and a real kick in the teeth” to Speight and Loftus.
One Leeds fan site derides Kewell as “one of the takers in life”, though others who responded to his open letter to the fans were more forgiving, pointing out that the people who killed Loftus and Speight were “mindless idiots that every club in the world unfortunately has”. You don’t have to hold Kewell up as “a giver”, or an outstanding human being, to feel that he is getting the rough end of the pineapple in this case. True, his letter is full of platitudes and non-sequiturs (the notion that reviving his No 19 shirt to “help the healing process of the tragedy” seems optimistic at best). But the question is, should he or any player have to make a moral or ethical choice about their employer? And if so, should that rule out Galatasaray? Yes. And no. No one should work for crooks, racists, bullies or cheats if they can help it.
But it’s rarely that clear-cut. Clubs are made up of owners, directors, coaches, players, backroom staff, fans. And they change over time. No club can be labelled perennially “bad” or “good”, acceptable or unacceptable, because of the behaviour of certain fans at a certain time (and if they could, where would you put, say, Leeds?). Kewell wants to play at the highest level he can for as long as possible. His choice of club puts him no higher and no lower than about 99.9 per cent of all professional footballers. Mike Ticher