Premier League Career: Leeds United (1996-2003), Liverpool FC (2003-2008)
Most recently the manager of League Two club Notts County, Harry Kewell enjoyed a rapid rise in his career in a very energetic and exciting Leeds United side. Kewell won the PFA Young Player of the Year accolade in 2000 and was also part of the Liverpool FC squad that won the UEFA Champions League in 2005, although there was major personal disappointment for the Aussie in Istanbul.
A left winger capable of playing in the no.10 role or even as a second striker, Kewell made his English breakthrough at Leeds, earning a trial for four weeks as part of the Big Brother Movement in Australia. He travelled to England with Brett Emerton who would become a future Premier League player. Both had trials and both were successful but it was only Kewell who was able to take up Leeds’ offer due to his father’s English heritage, which satisfied the visa requirements.
After three seasons in the Leeds youth team which included victory in the 1997 FA Youth Cup final over Crystal Palace, the 1997-1998 season was Kewell’s breakthrough into the Leeds first-team under the management of George Graham. He had already made his Premier League debut under previous manager Howard Wilkinson when he featured in a 1-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough in March 1996 but he began to shine on a regular basis for the Yorkshire side during Graham’s reign. He scored five times in 1997-1998 and also collected the first red card of his career in a 4-3 win over Blackburn Rovers in September 1997. His development continued rapidly in 1998-1999, featuring in every single Premier League match, chalking up six goals and six assists.
Kewell was at his absolute best in 1999-2000. He scored 10 goals; helping Leeds to a third place finish in the Premier League and claimed 13 assists which was the second-highest total in the entire division. His excellent goal at Hillsborough in April 2000 won the Leeds United Goal of the Year award and in the same month, he was selected as PFA Young Player of the Year and placed in the PFA Team of the Year. The only blemish was a red card in the second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final defeat to Galatasaray – an event overshadowed by attacks on Leeds supporters ahead of the first leg in Istanbul which led to the death of two fans.
Italian giants Inter Milan attempted to prize Harry away that summer but their £25 million bid was rejected, with Leeds believing his value was far too high to sell a prized asset. Kewell continued to shine, helping the Yorkshire side to a place in the semi-finals of the 2000-2001 UEFA Champions League although injuries restricted him to just 17 league appearances in that campaign.
By now though, Leeds’ financial difficulties saw them having to sell many of their key players. Kewell’s impressive return of 14 goals in 31 appearances in 2002-2003 including a scorching effort away at Highbury in May kept the club away from relegation danger. However, the crushing debts being piled up meant he was always going to be one of the stars the club were going to eventually have to cash in on. Over eight years at Leeds, he scored 45 goals in 181 Premier League appearances.
The way he left Leeds angered the supporters. Before his departure, he gave an interview to the BBC, criticising the staff at the club. There were plenty of suitors for him including AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea. However, Harry elected to move to the club he supported as a boy – Liverpool FC. His £5 million move in the summer of 2003 also saw Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer reluctantly give up the no.7 shirt at Anfield to the new arrival.
He started well in a Reds shirt. His first goal came in a 3-0 Merseyside Derby victory over Everton at Goodison Park and he added six further goals including a goal on his first return to Elland Road since leaving in February 2004. 2004-2005 didn’t go to plan. Just one Premier League goal in a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa and chronic time on the treatment table meant he lost his regular place in the team. Arguably, it was his worst-ever season in English football.
So, it was a big surprise when new boss Rafa Benitez selected him in the starting XI for the 2005 UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan ahead of the more defensively-minded Dietmar Hamann. AC Milan raced into a 3-0 lead and Kewell was off the pitch and replaced by Smicer inside 25 minutes, limping off with a torn abductor muscle. He was infamously booed off by many supporters who believed he’d faked the injury. It looked like he was on borrowed time on Merseyside.
However, he defied the critics in 2005-2006, scoring three cracking goals including a matchwinner against Tottenham Hotspur in January 2006. One of his best displays came in a 3-1 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton two months later, scoring the crucial third goal in the process. Kewell virtually started every match in the second half of the season, helping the Reds to the FA Cup final along the way. A torn groin muscle meant he only played 48 minutes in the final at The Millennium Stadium but this time, he received a more sympathetic response from Liverpool supporters on his exit from the contest. They appreciated his contribution to their best-ever Premier League season in terms of points total – registering 82 from 38 games.
Kewell recovered from the injury to play in the 2006 World Cup finals for his country Australia. On a stormy night in Stuttgart which saw Graham Poll dish out three red cards, Kewell scored the crucial equaliser in the 2-2 draw which took the Socceroos into the round-of-16 for the first time in their history. In total, he won 58 caps for Australia, scoring 17 goals. He also remains the youngest player to have debuted for his country when he played against Chile in April 1996, aged 17 years and 7 months.
Unfortunately, injury was never far away and it ruined his final two seasons in English football. Harry was on the sidelines in 2006-2007 until the end of April and made just two Premier League appearances for Liverpool FC, scoring a stoppage-time penalty on the final day against Charlton Athletic. It turned out to be his last-ever goal for the club. He was released in May 2008, moving onto Galatasaray where he spent three seasons before winding down his playing career back in Australia at Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart via a brief three-game spell with Al-Gharafa in 2013. He announced his retirement aged 35 in March 2014.
Following his retirement, Harry moved straight into coaching. Married to the former Emmerdale actress Sheree Murphy, he successfully completed his UEFA coaching licenses and took his first coaching job at Watford as Head Coach of their Under-21 team. He left in April 2017 after a poor run of results but a month later, was appointed boss of League Two team Crawley Town, becoming the first Australian to coach a professional English side. After just over a year at Crawley, he was poached by their League Two rivals Notts County in late August 2018, succeeding Kevin Nolan. However, after just 14 games in-charge and with the team still leaking goals near the foot of the table, he was axed in November 2018.