Former Liverpool player Harry Kewell has found a new club, after becoming a free agent at the end of June when his five-year Liverpool contract ended. After being linked with a number of clubs, he has chosen to go to Turkish side Galatasaray on a three-year deal.
Or so it seemed.
The announcement was made on the Istanbul side’s official website, but now Kewell’s agent, Bernie Mandic, claims there is still some thinking to do. He told the Australian FourFourTwo that a decision should be announced tomorrow: “We have not finalised a deal for Harry and it’s down to two possibilities. People will be notified if and when Harry decides on one of the options which may be around noon on Saturday European time. We will not make any other comments until then.”
Kewell’s £60,000-a-week deal with Liverpool began when he moved from Leeds to Anfield in July 2003 in a deal brokered by Mandic. The transfer fee Liverpool paid was £5m, but the then-Leeds board were angered in that they had assumed they would be receiving that full £5m – instead they had to pay a £2m cut to Kewell’s “representatives”, according to their statement at the time. It was a controversial exit from a club he’d joined as a teenager, and as much as that angered Leeds fans his next choice of club – if it is Galatasaray – is also likely to cause some anger amongst Leeds fans. They remember their club’s last trip to Galatasaray for the wrong reasons.
In 2000 Leeds played Galatasaray in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup, but the game was marred by the murders of two Leeds supporters the night before. Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were stabbed to death by Turkish supporters. The game went ahead despite the tragic events, Kewell playing in the 2-0 defeat.
His 2003 move to Anfield was announced in a statement by Leeds: “Leeds United confirms that it has accepted an offer from Liverpool Football Club for the transfer of Harry Kewell for £5m in cash. In order to effect the transfer, Leeds United has had to agree to pay a fee to representatives of Kewell in the sum of £2m.”
Various claims were made about how negotiations had been carried out, with Leeds hinting that they had expected £5m to be paid to them, with the £2m to be paid to Kewell’s representatives coming also from Anfield, costing Liverpool a total of £7m. However in a tight financial situation they had to accept that £3m was better than nothing, with Kewell a year away from becoming a free agent: “The board, having taken appropriate professional advice, felt that it had no option but to accept these terms given the context of Kewell’s current contract. Kewell currently has only one year remaining of his contract with Leeds United. As such he would be in a position to sign a pre-contract agreement with another club in January 2004 and leave Leeds United at the end of the 2003/4 season without any transfer fee being payable.”
Kewell was criticized by Gary Lineker in a newspaper column for the move, and Kewell took Lineker to court to sue for damages. It was settled out of court.
It was claimed after his transfer that he’d turned down offers of better money at other clubs, including Manchester United, in order to join Liverpool. Clearly talented, bought for a knock-down price, a boyhood Red, turning down the Mancs – what more could we ask for?
Well we could have asked for more appearances. In all he played less than a hundred times in five years’ worth of Liverpool league games, scoring 12 times in the 93 appearances he made. Overall he scored 16 goals, from 139 appearances. The 93 league games in five years represents just under half the appearances possible, but in the past two seasons he’s appeared in only 12 out of Liverpool’s 76 league games.
Talks about a new contract were held between Liverpool and the Kewell camp, but they had differing opinions on what Kewell had to offer to the club. Kewell’s £60,000 a week existing contract was at that level in part because of the relatively low fee Liverpool paid for him, and given his poor turnout particularly in those past two seasons Rafa was understandably reluctant to offer him a straight renewal. Although no details were released, it did seem that Rafa was offering Kewell a chance to prove himself by accepting a contract where he would be rewarded for the performances he put in, or even the number of performances. Had Kewell taken the challenge, performed well and finally managed to put injuries behind him, there is little doubt that he’d have been offered an improved deal later.
Comments made recently suggest Kewell was unhappy with Rafa however, and he chose to look for another club. He was linked with Premier League sides Portsmouth and Fulham, and there were links with clubs who could offer him Champions League football, with Celtic and Roma mentioned. It does look like his first choice is another Champions League side in Galatasaray.
Kewell had considered the idea of being an overage player for Australia at the Olympics but the Aussie Olympics coach told reporters Kewell had already informed him he would not now attend, instead concentrating on his new club career. Graham Arnold, described Kewell as “honourable” in his decision to back out of the squad: “It’s not easy for him, as soon as he signs for a new club to ask for four weeks to go to the Olympics. You’ve got to look at Galatasaray, they are in the Champions League as well so that comes in early August – it’s not the perfect time for Harry.”
So Arnold seems to know that Kewell is off to Galatasaray, having had contact from him, but Mandic denies the deal is done.
Kewell has played for Australia this summer a couple of times, scoring and getting an assist as the Socceroos beat Qatar for a place in the next stage of World Cup qualifying. Arnold was understanding of Kewell’s decision: “Harry made this decision that he didn’t want to let the team down and didn’t want to let down the football community by saying he’d come and then have to pull out after a couple of weeks and leave us a player short. I think it’s a very honourable decision.”
The former Liverpool number 7 also turned out for Australia against China last month in another World Cup qualifying match. Australia lost, although the game was insignificant as the qualifying had been decided before the match. After the game he claimed he wasn’t in a hurry to decide on his next club move, saying: “I’m on holiday for a week or so and then I’ll decide my future. But for now I’m just going to relax. In this day and age, clubs take their time, there’s a long way to go and a big process to go through, so I’m in no rush.”
He had played well in the game, according to reports, and was asked if his performance might make him more attractive to other clubs, but his response was little more than a dig at Rafa Benitez: “You know what? I never came here to prove anything to anyone. The only person I really wanted to prove anything to was my old manager, just to show him I can play. Other than that I didn’t want to prove anything, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy myself.”
He wasn’t in the mood to reveal much about his choices of club: “I’m just enjoying my football and that’s the thing I have come here to do. I’ve been around the game a long time now. There’s always speculation around players. When you’re older you can just take it on board and forget about it. I’m going to put it far out of my mind, I’m going on holiday now and I’ll look to my future when I get back.”
The China game featured a number of the players who were likely to feature in the Australian Olympic squad, but even at that stage he wasn’t committing to the idea of playing in the games. He has missed out previously, for an unsurprising reason: “I’ve been injured the last two times. I’ve got to sort my club future out first and if the opportunity arises then – yeah, maybe. The Olympics is only two weeks but I’ve got to sort my future out first.”
When asked directly about the link to Roma, he said his Italian was “bad, very bad,” but he did complement the city: “It’s a beautiful city. I’ve been there once when I was younger.” As it was he decided against any move to join up with former Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise who left Liverpool for the Italian side recently.
Wherever he finally ends up, it’s difficult not to look back at those five years without a sense of regret. For five years Liverpool fans have been waiting to see him get started, and he just never really did.