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Harry Kewell

Harry Kewell

Marc Fox

Their names tripped off the tongue together for so long it's a strange feeling to think Mark Viduka is relaxing into unofficial retirement while Harry Kewell's career is undergoing a perfectly timed renaissance for club and country.

Viduka has not played for the Socceroos since 2007 and decided against keeping his European career going after his contract with Newcastle United ended almost a year ago. He's since divided his time between Croatia and Melbourne, and has given no indication of wanting to ever play again.

Meanwhile, Kewell's past 18 months in Turkey with Galatasaray could hardly have gone any more to plan.

In blazing contrast to his unhappy five-year spell at boyhood idols Liverpool, the 31-year-old's fitness has rarely been called into question, he is adored by the Gala supporters and has the confidence of coach Frank Rijkaard.

The golden boy of Australian soccer has come a long way since gambling on a move to the Turkish capital in 2008.

Kewell's burgeoning reputation in England was ruined on Merseyside. Nobody there recalls the Leeds United teenager who tore right-backs to shreds and snubbed Manchester United's interest to move to Anfield.

The Aussie winger is principally remembered for hobbling off midway through the first-half of the 2005 Champions League final in, all of places, Istanbul, jeered and heckled by his own supporters as he succumbed to another groin injury while Liverpool were being batted by rampant Milan.

Kewell was also substituted in the FA Cup final in 2006 with the same ailment, with those episodes and others leading Liverpool fans to conclude their £5 million signing was damaged goods and needed shipping out.

However, Kewell's improved fitness record since leaving England for Turkey has seriously undermined that opinion with Liverpool's medical staff coming under fire from his agent Bernie Mandic last month for their apparent poor treatment of him during his time there.

The platform for Mandic to make such a stinging attack has been laid by the buoyant Kewell's stunning impact at Gala.

He carefully managed to avoid too much criticism for contentiously joining the club Leeds fans love to loathe after two of their supporters never returned from the Uefa Cup semi-final clash in 2000. And ever since Kewell's individual performances have been on an upward trajectory.

In a recent interview with the Turkish Football Federation's monthly magazine, the Gala No.19 claimed to have been "reborn" since his transfer, while he now is considered by some supporters the most popular foreign player in Turkey since George Hagi.

That's some statement considering the Romanian playmaker won a Uefa Cup, European Super Cup and four league titles during his five years in Istanbul.

With Kewell approaching the end of his current contract in June, Galatasaray supporters have already started pleading with him to stay amid transfer rumours of a move by Marseille to take him to France, even setting up a website called www.staywithusharry.com dedicated to keeping him at the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

The left-footed winger or emergency striker says he's in no rush to leave after settling into Istanbul life. Domestically as strong as ever, Gala are also through to the last 32 in the Europa League, while in January Kewell was joined by compatriot Lucas Neill.

Following hot on the heels of Mandic's comments, there's a hint of irony surrounding Kewell's latest injury setback. He is currently sidelined with a groin tear, a problem that was first thought sufficiently serious to place his World Cup participation under a cloud.

The latest prognosis is that Kewell will return next month, and has been pencilled in to play for the Socceroos in their farewell match against fellow qualifiers New Zealand in late May.

Despite Tim Cahill's irresistible form in the Premier League with Everton and the fine displays of Mark Schwarzer, Kewell's name remains intrinsically linked with Australian football success in many corners of the world and he will again have a role to play in South Africa.

Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek's greatest concern heading into a group phase that has pitched Australia against Germany, Serbia and Ghana is the make-up of his strike force.

Verbeek's options are so limited, the temptation is to play Kewell, who scored a crucial goal in World Cup 2006 against Croatia, as a lone striker, similar to the way Rijkaard has occasionally used him this season at Gala.

How the Dutchman would love a fit and firing Viduka as the focal point of his attacks in South Africa. But he might just have to instead hope that Kewell can reproduce his club form in the green and gold in what's likely to be his last major international tournament.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com


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