Harry Kewell starts only his second season in management in August, but we have already seen that he is by no means alone in League Two in terms of inexperience. There are no fewer than five others with a season or less as a manager, and eleven in total with fewer than 100 games to their name. Critics might suggest that the appointment of former international players to lower division jobs has not gone well traditionally, and will point to the likes of Teddy Sheringham at Stevenage, Terry Butcher at Newport and Jackie McNamara at York as evidence of that. There have been success stories of course, and Crawley would hardly have a surfeit of quality beating a path to their door. With a wealth of experience at the highest level as a player, Kewell may well have as much chance of succeeding as anyone else.
Although born to an English father, Kewell grew up in Australia. Having enjoyed a successful trial with Leeds at the age of 15, he joined the club the following summer and spent three years appearing largely for the youth team. He made his first-team debut aged just 17, but opportunities were few and far between at that stage. Having won the FA Youth Cup in 1998, he stepped up to the first team in earnest. In the space of three eventful seasons, he was named PFA Young Player of the Year, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, was the subject of a £25 million bid from Inter Milan, and became a regular for Australia. Things turned sour at Leeds when the money famously dried up, and Kewell departed for Liverpool in the summer of 2003 for £5 million in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. His total of 62 goals in 242 games was certainly impressive and represented the best scoring return of his career.
His time at Liverpool was badly affected by injuries, but he featured prominently in their amazing Champions League triumph in 2005. He also appeared as a second-half substitute as Liverpool were beaten 2-1 by AC Milan in the 2007 final. Liverpool finished in the top 5 of the Premier League in each of his five seasons, won the FA Cup in 2006 and were beaten in the League Cup Final in 2005. The goals had dried up compared to his time at Leeds, with just 16 from his 138 appearances. At the end of the 2007-08 season, he was not offered a contract because of his persistent injury problems and he chose to join Turkish champions Galatasaray on an initial two-year deal.
The scoring touch returned in Turkey, with Kewell adding 34 goals in his three years in Istanbul. He may have stayed longer, were it not for the fact that he had left his wife (the soap actress Sheree Murphy) and their children behind in England. After protracted negotiations, Kewell eventually signed for A-League side Melbourne Victory in 2011 after originally favouring a move to rivals Melbourne Heart. His stay lasted just a single season as his career began to falter. After a short spell in Qatar with Al-Gharafa and an injury-hit final few months with Melbourne Heart, he retired in March 2014 at the age of 36. He made 515 first-class appearances (scoring 124 goals) plus 56 full Australia caps (17 goals), appearing in two World Cup Final tournaments.
Controversy has never been far from the horizon in Kewell’s career, with a much-publicised defamation case against Gary Lineker around the circumstances of his transfer to Liverpool; claims he had been ostracised by the other players at Leeds; flak from Liverpool fans accusing him of being lazy after his one goal in thirty-one games in 2004-05; criticism from Leeds supporters after Kewell joined Galatasaray (over the murders of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in April 2000); rumours of a rift between the Australia players at the 2010 World Cup Finals; and latterly accusations of excessive demands from both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart in 2011. If his managerial career proves as eventful as his playing career, we are in for an interesting time.
Following his retirement in 2014, Kewell turned to coaching and completed his UEFA B and A licences in 2015. His first job came as U21 head coach at Watford in July 2015, but things did not go well from the start. The side finished bottom of the Professional U21 Development League Division Two South with just 5 wins and 22 points from their 29 matches. Things hardly improved in 2016-17, and Kewell was sacked in April 2017 after a run of just 2 wins in 7 months. The side finished the season second from bottom of the South Division, with 32 points from their 28 games. Little more than a month later, he was appointed head coach at Crawley, who had just escaped relegation from League Two by five points.
The 2017-18 season got off to a poor start, with four defeats from his first four games. Crawley eventually picked up, and a run of eleven wins from sixteen games carried them to within two points of the playoffs. However, the eleventh win – 3-1 at home to Lincoln – signalled the end of the promotion challenge. They won just one more game from their remaining twelve to finish in the bottom half, closer to the relegation zone than the playoffs.
Whilst deserving of much respect for his playing career, Harry Kewell certainly has a point to prove this season. To have been two points off the playoffs at the end of February was a notable achievement in his first season as a manager, but that end of season run which produced just eight points must be a concern. Quite how successful he is in correcting that for the start of this season may well indicate whether Kewell really does have what it takes to succeed as a manager.
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and playoffs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 6, 2018