Rafa: Kewell can play himself into a new deal

Liverpool forward Harry Kewell could be offered a new contract: if he can prove his fitness.

The Aussie star has been plagued by injuries during his whole time at Anfield since being signed by Gerard Houllier, but whenever he’s been fit he’s been seen as important by manager Rafael Benitez.

Some of his harsher critics have believed rather bizarrely that Kewell has faked his injuries, but it’s all been down to a mixture of bad luck and perhaps the wrong diagnosis from time to time.

He made his reserves comeback last week, playing 45 minutes and scoring a goal at the Halliwell Jones Stadium against Newcastle reserves, and on Wednesday he played the last 20 minutes of the Carling Cup game against Cardiff.

He’d just about got fit again towards the tail-end of last season and was playing a part in pre-season games – only to suffer another injury. Rafa still sees him as a vital part of his plans for this season, he’s never hidden his admiration for the Reds’ number 7: “Harry was playing forty-five minutes with the reserve team and to play with the first team again and to play well – we were creating chances when he was on the pitch – I think was really good. Now he must try to be as fit as possible for the next games.”

Kewell is probably not yet ready to start a game, but before using him as a substitute Rafa needs to be clear in his own mind that Kewell would be able to play at full speed if he brought him on. He took a risk on Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso in the Arsenal game and as they limped off he saw his game plan suffer. Perhaps with that in mind he wants to be more cautious with Kewell, especially given the length of time he’s been out: “We must see what we can do with him because it is not easy when you can only have 16 players on the list. You need to decide each time. “He is working with the physios and doing the right things. But sometimes, because he was eight to ten months without playing, you cannot be sure. You need to play 100 percent in games.”

Kewell’s agent (or representative, because he’s not technically the player’s agent), was famous for a short time when he helped to negotiate an embarrassing deal – embarrassing to Leeds that is. They sold Kewell in 2003 for a knock-down £5m, and out of that they had to pay £2m to Kewell’s representatives. This was in the early days of the troubles that saw Leeds drop down the divisions after having so recently made it to a Champions League semi-final. The deal he signed then has now entered its final year, and if he wants to stay at Anfield he may just be offered a new deal. If he can stay fit, according to Rafa: “Yes, by working hard and playing well, playing games in a row and playing at his level. Nobody has any doubt about the quality of Harry. He’s a fantastic player. I have always seen him as a very good player with options for him maybe staying here. But this is a crucial stage of his career. For his age and because he is finishing his contract he knows how important this time is.”

Asked if a new contract would be short or long term, Rafa said it’s not really been decided yet, he just hopes to see Harry back to his old best: “I am not thinking about the kind of contract right now. I am thinking about seeing him fit, seeing him playing well. I have no doubt about his quality. It is always good just to see him on the pitch, playing well and scoring goals and we will decide.”

Kewell’s long-term injury status is coming to an end in the middle of an injury crisis for the club. All season Rafa has been forced into changes due to injuries. He’s rarely been able to play his preferred central-defensive partnership of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, thanks to Carra’s broken rib and Agger’s broken metatarsal. But Agger should be back after the next international break, along with Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres, according to Rafa: “We expect Fernando to be back in two or three weeks, but we must wait to see how he progresses. We felt the previous time he was injured that he was okay after a few weeks, but then we had more problems with him. Daniel Agger and Xabi Alonso should also both be back in the same timescale. We are still looking at scans over Alonso, but it looks promising, but at the moment he cannot run, and I don’t like seeing players just walking. We must be careful.”

Xabi suffered a fresh fracture of his just-healed metatarsal on Sunday, and Rafa doesn’t want to rush him back too soon next time: “He picked up another injury just when we were expecting him to be able to get back to his best. This time we must make sure that we have him back and fit for a long time. We want him for more than one or two games.”