Another one of Gerard Houllier’s signings left Anfield yesterday when Wigan Athletic turned their loan deal for Chris Kirkland into a permanent deal. The player signed a contract that runs until 2009 after the two clubs agreed a fee.
Kirkland struggled to make an impact at Anfield thanks to injury after injury – usually unrelated – bringing each of his spells in the side to an early end. He never got a chance to show Rafa Benítez what he could do, even succumbing to injuries last season when on loan to West Brom. A lot of Houllier’s big money, big contract signings were failures due to a lack of ability or dodgy temperament, but Kirks just struggled because of so many injuries.
Former Liverpool reserve and now Latics boss Paul Jewell was delighted to have got a player who – if he stays injury free – could go on to become a first choice keeper for England one day. Jewell said: “Chris is a world class keeper and a smashing pro. It was always our intention to make the deal permanent and its great news that we’ve got it all sorted so quickly. His calibre has never been in question and he’s been brilliant for us since he’s arrived. I’m blessed with three excellent keepers, in Kirky, Mike Pollitt and John Filan, who’s currently on loan at Doncaster. The competition is fierce and that’s how I like it.”
Kirkland himself spoke about how happy he was to know he’s now got some certainty to look forward to about his future career: “I’m really pleased that my future is now sorted. It’s been great since joining Wigan, we have a tremendous set of lads and the Gaffer has been different class. This is an ambitious club that is going places and I’m delighted that I’ll be part of that. I’ve been made to feel so welcome by everyone and the permanent move was always my intention. I’m enjoying my football at the moment and not setting any goals other than playing well for Wigan, staying in the team and doing my best for the Gaffer and the lads. If I do that everything else will look after itself.”
Kirkland might have had more chances at Anfield if he’d been in a position where players are rotated, in other words anywhere but in goal. Harry Kewell has also had a very injury prone career since he became a Red, and he’s now looking like being out again until the latter stages of the season.
What Kewell has done to try and prolong his career and reduce future chances of injury is to walk out on his sponsorship deal with Adidas. He now wears Nomis boots, a manufacturer from Australia, and he doesn’t get paid to do so.
The new boots are custom-made, and are the work of an Australian designer, Simon Skirrow. Kewell recalls meeting Skirrow in Liverpool earlier this year: “It was close to the end of last season and obviously I had been having problems with my feet. Simon had given the boots to my manager who gave them to me to train with.” That manager of course is Bernie Mandic, the man infamous for getting Kewell’s transfer fee to be so low from Leeds. Kewell says he was surprised at how comfortable they felt when he put them on: “The first time I put them on I thought they felt like a pair of slippers.”
Kewell had been with Adidas for some time and had got quite a lucrative deal with them. He actually wore the boots – with the labels cut off – in the FA Cup final last season, but they didn’t help him in that match as he had to face the bitter disappointment of leaving the field early in a final for the second year running. He had to wear the Adidas ones again in the World Cup finals, since which he’s been out of action and had to go for surgery. “Obviously there were some things to sort out with Adidas which took some time but I’ve since decided to stick with the new boots.”
According to reports, Kewell’s deal with Adidas, signed in 2004, was the biggest sponsorship deal for an individual in a team sport in Australian history and Adidas paid Kewell a percentage of boot sales. However it’s all now come to an end says Harry: “I have been involved with Adidas for around 10 years and have always had a great relationship with them. I count a lot of the people there as my good friends, but it’s just time for me to think about my feet.”
English born Skirrow, says it took him five years to work on the boot design and he says he was surprised that Kewell wanted to wear the boots without expecting to be paid to do so: “He was the first one to come and be totally refreshing and say ‘it’s not about the money, it’s about my feet’. So many footballers have the mentality of, ‘If I’m going to wear a boot, I must be paid for it’,” said Skirrow.
Kewell won’t be able to show Liverpool fans the new boots in action until at least March as he recovers from surgery on his groin and on his left foot. He revealed the length of time he’s going to need for recover when he went to a school in Sydney earlier this week: “It’s going to be a while, we’re looking past February.”
The original story coming out of the Australian camp when he suffered the injuries in the World Cup was that he had gout. This soon turned out to be incorrect, proving instead to be an arthritic condition. Now he’s had the surgery he’s desperate to get back on the pitch again: “I’m just itching to get back into playing. My foot is a bit sore at the moment and my groin is a bit sore at the moment. I just had that done on Friday, but the surgeons are very happy. I meet up with them again on Friday and if they give me the all-clear I’m back off to England.”
He’s been staying with Australian family members during his spell back in his homeland, but he’s desperately missing his English wife Sheree and their children: “It’s been a long hard thing for me, seven weeks so far, and I’m really looking forward to going home and seeing my family.”