The medical community of Melbourne are collectively licking their lips. For the first time in his professional career Harry Kewell is playing club football in Australia. Melbourne Victory have beaten supposed interest from Sydney FC in securing his signature on a three year deal. Since emerging from the Leeds United academy in the late 90’s Harry has become Australian football’s highest profile player. When on song, he is world class.
Unfortunately and all too cruelly, we have only glimpsed snippets of this ability. Injuries have plagued his career with Harry spending more time in the treatment room than on the field. Not since the 99-00 season has Harry been able to play more than 50 games a season and only five times in sixteen years has he played over 40.
What this shows is that to have Harry on your books means you’re paying a high wage for not a lot of output. Ordinarily this would be a problem for Melbourne Victory as they are not a wealthy club with money to burn. Whilst there is no doubt the accountants will have worked overtime to stretch their budget to be able to afford him, according to reports the deal has been structured to reward Harry for his ability to get bums on seats. He’ll get a slice of attendance money, a slice of the increased corporate investment and he’ll have greater control of his image rights. One of the reasons the deal has taken so long to conclude is because the FFA had to relinquish some control of these rights. However, the deal is done and the league has its marquee player.
There is no doubt that a marquee player can have a positive effect on attendances. Robbie Fowler was very successful in drawing crowds the previous two seasons while Dwight Yorke also enjoyed a successful spell becoming the face of the A-League in its inaugural season. There have been some duds too but this is a guaranteed winner. Harry Kewell is an Australian footballing icon and his star power shines brightest in his home country. The contract negotiations alone have generated more interest than all other A-League pre-season stories combined.
He doesn’t need to bring his best form, as that in itself would become a talking point. A goal drought would make just as many headlines as a steady stream (see Fernando Torres not scoring for Chelsea.) The most important thing Harry Kewell needs to do is get out there and play. Regularly. If he was to find some form it’s not inconceivable that an offer to go back overseas could surface. Let’s face it, the only reason this deal could ever have eventuated is because no-one else came in for him.
But for now, the A-League needs Harry and Harry needs the A-League. If he can stay on the field it’s a wonderful opportunity to resurrect his career. He will also retain his place in the hearts and minds of the Australian footballing public. And if he breaks down? Well, the Melbourne medical community will be ready.