Harry Kewell is a Socceroos legend who requires little introduction.
In an exclusive interview with one of the greatest talents Australia has produced, the former Leeds United and Liverpool star opened up on his illustrious Socceroos career.
Harry Kewell possesses no shortage of weird and wonderful stories to tell from his time in Green and Gold.
He overcame more than his fair share of injury struggles to represent Australia on 58 occasions, scoring 17 goals. The forward with a famous left boot played an instrumental role in memorable upsets over England, Holland, Germany and Uruguay (on a couple of famous occasions), all the while providing for his country when they needed him most at the Asian Cup and World Cup.
In the club arena, Kewell enjoyed spells as a fan favourite at Leeds United and Galatasaray, who worshipped him with “the best song in football,” and endured a personal “nightmare” while winning a Champions League crown with Liverpool in 2005.
Since retiring, he has continued to pursue his love for the game as a coach.
Harry Kewell’s journey from Brennan Park in Sydney’s west to the bright lights of Elland Road in the English Premier League was not exactly straightforward.
Describing himself as a “little whippet,” Kewell’s pace and deadly left foot caught the eye of many during his days representing Smithfield Hotspurs at grassroots level.
However apparently not everyone could spot his outstanding potential.
“We were at a district trial and all of my mates from Southern District got picked but I didn't,” Kewell told the Football Australia Podcast.
“My dad's mate went up to the coach and said ‘you just made the biggest mistake ever. He's our best player.’
“Then I remember the coach that picked the squad came to my school and he turned around and said, ‘I want you for the district team.’”
As it turned out, that call-up would spark Kewell’s prodigious rise to stardom.
He was soon selected in a regional team, before going on to compete at state level.
There, he was identified to join the academy of late great coach David Lee and under his mentorship, Kewell’s football flourished.
A few years later Kewell was handpicked from Lee’s academy to embark on a footballing journey he would never forget thanks to a Big Brother scholarship.
“They gave six invitations out to David Lee, and I think he had 12 players at the time,” Kewell explained.
“I was lucky enough to get picked along with Brett Emerton and the two of us got to go to Leeds.
“It was an opportunity to see what the youngsters are like and how their day to day life is, so we got a little taste of it.”
Despite no promises of an official trial, the pair were granted a valuable opportunity to showcase their talent during a youth game against Sunderland.
“We weren’t even supposed to play that game, but we did,” Kewell remembered with a chuckle.
“I played the second half and after the game, my coach came up to me and said ‘how would you like to sign for us?’
“I said yes straight away: ‘100%, I’m here.’”
Kewell admits his “head was already at Leeds” when he returned home for two months of schooling, before jetting off to Yorkshire via Ecuador, where he represented Australia at the 1995 Under-17’s World Cup.
Kewell was yet to turn 18 when he made his senior debut for club and country.
He took to the pitch for Leeds against Middlesbrough in March 1996 before a month later joining the Socceroos for their friendly away to Chile.
WATCH BELOW: Harry Kewell on Iran heroics in FIFA World Cup Play-Offs
Unsurprisingly, England were entertaining the possibility of securing his international allegiance; but Kewell was a Socceroo through and through.
He had dreamt of representing Australia even as a young ball-boy at Parramatta Stadium interacting with the likes of Alan Davidson.
Either way, Australian manager at the time Eddie Thompson took no chances.
“I know England were interested because I remember my coaches telling me they had done a background check,” Kewell said.
“I think playing for Australia in the U17’s ruled it out, but I know they (England) kept on digging and I think Australia must have heard of this.
“In the next couple of weeks I remember getting a call up saying ‘hey, this is Eddie Thompson and we're looking forward for you to come into the Australian squad.”
Kewell was greeted with a baptism of fire in Antofagasta after starting in an unfamiliar defensive role.
“I can remember playing left wing-back,” he recounted.
“But I was never scared because my first corner I had to mark Iván Zamorano and he was probably one of the world’s best players in the air.
“He got the better of me that day and I think he scored, but I enjoyed the game and I wanted more.”
In the years that followed, Kewell rose to prominence on the international stage in his customary attacking position.
He found the back of the net during both legs against Iran in 1997 and three weeks later scored a golden goal against Uruguay to secure Australia’s best ever Confederations Cup finish.
During that tournament he fondly recalls sharing a hotel with the star-studded Brazilian squad and swapping shirts with Cafu after Australia were outclassed by the Seleção in the final.
In 2003, Kewell was back in the headlines in the lead up to Australia’s upset of England.
Discussion in the lead up to the contest revolved around whether Harry’s thigh strain would allow him to take to the Upton Park pitch.
Despite the reservations of his employers Leeds and their manager Terry Venables, the Australian medical team declared Kewell fit to play.
Yet his fitness concerns did not mean Kewell gave lenient treatment to his Leeds teammates.
Kewell scored the Socceroos second goal by beating former Leeds teammate Rio Ferdinand in a foot race down the line.
"It was a sprinting race with Rio," said Kewell.
"For whatever Rio said, he was never quicker than me so he was always going to lose out.
"He tripped over himself and gave me an opportunity."
WATCH BELOW: Kewell relives the England match
Fast forward two years and Kewell found himself in the spotlight yet again as Australia closed in on an elusive World Cup berth.
Heading into the 2005 home and away fixtures with Uruguay the now-Liverpool maestro’s momentum had been impacted by persistent injury conerns.
“I wasn’t fully fit so I didn’t think I was going to start in Uruguay,” Kewell reflected.
“But I remember starting and playing a full game and I was exhausted.
“I thought I played well in Montevideo and felt comfortable, so going back to Australia I thought, ‘well we’re 1-0 down, he’s definitely going to start me. There’s no question about that.’
Then Guus Hiddink made the controversial decision that shocked a nation: benching Kewell for the return leg.
“I remember thinking ‘are you serious? Really?’
“As any professional player, you would be lying if you didn’t say you felt hurt.
“But then you put your head back on and say ‘well I don’t play an individual sport I play a team sport.’
“I did everything properly to prepare. The only thing I didn’t do is go out with the first team.
“As I sat on the bench and listened to the national anthem all I could think of is how I wished I was out there.”
WATCH BELOW: Harry Kewell reflects on benching & heroics against Uruguay
As the legend goes, Kewell replaced Tony Popovic on the half-hour mark and played a vital role in setting up Mark Bresciano’s all-important equaliser.
“I respect Hiddink a lot – he’s a magician when it comes to things like this,” Kewell said.
“In that game I just don't think Uruguay could handle us and I thought we just got stronger and stronger.
“I think we were unlucky not to win the game during the match.”
While his energy stores were well and truly exhausted post-game, Kewell treasures his recollection of the jubilant dressing room celebrations involving John Travolta.
“I remember I was sitting in the background because I was cramping up and exhausted,” he said.
“I just watched on, thinking this is a moment that you have got to enjoy.”
Yet again injuries limited Kewell’s involvement on the world stage a year later.
However he was present to secure Australia’s passage beyond the group stages with one of the most memorable goals in Socceroos history.
Looking back, Kewell observes the distinct similarities between his composed equaliser against Croatia and his strike against Iran almost a decade earlier.
The only difference? In Stuttgart, he struck the ball with his weaker right foot.
WATCH BELOW: Kewell reflects on goal against Croatia
“It was great to see that ball go into the back of the net,” Kewell reflected.
“I think you can see the relief on my face because I’d just scored on the biggest stage of football.
“Not only because it made it 2-2; I didn’t know (at the time) it was going to get us through, because we didn't know the Japan score.”
Then came Australia’s infamous face-off with Italy where Kewell was the most notable absentee. The sudden onset of a toe infection left him watching on with crutches.
He still looks back at that game thinking ‘what could have been.’
“We knew it was going to be difficult but at any given moment that was the time to take Italy down because they had ten men,” Kewell said.
“I think in that game the only thing we lacked was someone for us to break through the final third.
“I so wish now that I was playing in that game, even if I played only 45 minutes or half an hour.”
Harry Kewell believes he would've made difference against Italy at FIFA World Cup 2006
Like many Australian fans, Kewell will always remember the day future World Champions Italy survived an almighty scare.
“I know they were scared because Totti blasted the ball,” he observed.
“When you blast the ball it means that you hit it as hard as you can and just hope that the keeper doesn’t go the right way.”
Just a year earlier, Kewell had approached the pinnacle of club football knowing his problematic groin “could snap at any time.”
While he is proud to have played a part in Liverpool’s Istanbul miracle – where they defied all odds to recover a 3-0 half-time deficit against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final – that night saw Kewell endure a personal “nightmare.”
Rafa Benitez shocked Liverpool fans by starting Kewell, however the gamble did not pay dividends after a reoccurrence of his groin injury led to his substitution after 23 minutes.
“It’s probably the highest game you can ever play in your career, but you want to be able to perform,” Kewell said.
“The whole year I was going through injuries involving my groin and I was in and out of the team so it was difficult, but going out there I was hitting some good form.
“I felt good, but I knew the next day I was going in for an operation to get it fixed so for me I knew it could snap at any time – I was told that by the doctors.
“I still don't know what happened that night for Liverpool to come back but I think it just shows the pride of Scousers and that city.
“They have that never say die attitude - the five years I was there I absolutely loved it.”
Harry Kewell on camaraderie with Socceroos teammates
A few years later Kewell returned to Istanbul – this time permanently.
In 2008 he signed for Galatasaray on a free transfer and endured a bit of a culture shock before winning over Turkish hearts.
At the time, Kewell was accompanied by physiotherapist and close friend Les Gelis.
“We embraced the culture, the people and just went from strength to strength,” he reflected.
“Both of us loved our time over there and I played some of the best football of my life in Galatasaray.”
Kewell reminisces of the buzz he would enjoy when hearing the club’s fanatical fans sing their rendition of the ‘Harry Kewell, Daddy Cool’ song.
“It was brewing a little at Leeds and then I had heard it quite a lot at Liverpool,” he said.
“But I think Galatasaray took it to the next level by actually introducing the Daddy Cool song (over the stadium’s PA system).
“I have to say all the other players were jealous – it’s probably one of the best songs I have ever heard.
“Sometimes the games might not have been the best, but the fans were always up for a show and that song was amazing.”
Kewell on being the 'king' of Hearts in Socceroos camp
The podcast concluded with a simple question that addressed Kewell’s love for the sport he has committed his entire life towards.
“I think it's just in my blood,” he said.
“I love a lot of sports, but I just think everyone is born with a gift and I was lucky enough to find mine.
“As much as I love playing the game I actually prefer the mental side of it, involving thinking, and coaching.
“I think for people that haven't found their gift yet, just keep going out there and try and find it because everyone has got a talent.”