Forget the tug-of-war with the Football Federation of Australia over the finer points of the contract. Never mind the long and drawn out negotiation process. Harry Kewell is here and all is forgiven and forgotten. Well, at least that will be the mantra adopted by many Melbourne Victory and A-League fans over the coming weeks.
Let’s make no mistake: Kewell is not going to get a free ride on his return to the A-League. Media scrutiny will be intense and expectations will be high for the 32-year-old. On the pitch, his every move will be analysed and discussed and he will be expected to deliver.
Kewell, Australia’s greatest ever soccer export, recognises the pressure and criticism that will be coming his way and wants his performances on the pitch to do all the talking.
‘I’m not the only player to have received that kind of stuff, again I’m gonna get them critics as well. But again, I’m here to enjoy my football,’ he told website Four Four Two.
John Aloisi’s first season as a marquee player at Sydney FC provides a good reference point for how quickly the tide can turn for returning Socceroos. Aloisi was savaged by media and fans alike for his form. Was it justified? Probably. The former Socceroos striker was on big money and failed to deliver.
So that begs the question: is Melbourne taking a risk by putting its faith in a player who many pundits believe is injury-prone and has seen better days?
Simply, the answer is ‘no’. Kewell transcends his sport like few other Australian sports people. He has the ability to attract and command the attention of AFL, rugby league and union fans, where in normal circumstances they wouldn’t give two hoots about the A-League. In essence, he has the ‘star’ power and media profile to boost not only Melbourne Victory but the A-League as a whole.
‘I’m there to entertain and do a job on the park,’ Kewell told the media on his arrival in Melbourne on Monday September 12. And while he may have only been in town for a short time, ‘Kewellmania’ is already evident.
Last Monday saw a throng of media and fans greet Kewell at Melbourne Airport as he arrived in town as a Victory player. Later that afternoon, the former Liverpool winger gave his first media conference to a packed room.
Tuesday saw Melbourne’s largest selling newspaper, the Herald Sun, carry Kewell on the back page (in the middle of an AFL finals series this is no mean feat). By Wednesday, Kewell trained for the first time with his new team mates and the press pack followed closely. By Thursday night, Kewell was appearing on the AFL Footy Show.
Television and radio news bulletins have provided saturation coverage of Kewell’s movements.
It didn’t end there either. Arguably the biggest event of the week came on Saturday when Kewell was presented with his Victory jersey for the first time at AAMI Park in front of around 2,000 Victory fans. That was the money shot – Kewell donning his new number 22 and the big ‘V’ for the first time.
The A-League is making a lot of noise, and positive noise at that, three weeks out from opening day. It is a situation of stark contrast to this time last year as dwindling crowds and lack of media exposure dogged the league’s opening months.
Thanks to Kewell, the A-League may have got the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.