Injury-prone Socceroo star is fit and raring to go

Coach Pim Verbeek, not to mention a large number of Australia fans, would have been frozen to the spot on hearing in December that their star performer was once again suffering with the bane of his life: acute groin trouble.

Initial medical bulletins coming out of Galatasaray, where Kewell has played since 2008, had him facing five months on the sidelines, thus making the 31-year-old a major doubt for the World Cup finals. Thankfully, the doomsday reports were to prove wide of the mark, with a clutch of specialists in Sydney concluding that surgery was not necessary and three to four weeks of rest would clear the problem.

Cue sighs of relief all over Australia. Kewell may have his critics – most of whom cite his repeated injury woes – but, when push comes to shove, the national side are nowhere near the same force without him. No one else in the Aussie squad can match him for inventiveness or top-level experience – he has spent 15 seasons in the European mainstream with Leeds United, Liverpool and now Galatasaray – and, as the leading player of his generation down under, he is the side’s talisman and the figure they rally around.

There is no question that Verbeek badly needs Kewell to be operational in South Africa. Although normally a left-flank flyer, he can also play up front if necessary – and Verbeek has been hinting that he may use him to fill the striking void left by the international retirement of Mark Viduka.

It does make perfect sense. Employing Tim Cahill as a solo front man negates his incredible ability to ghost late into goalscoring positions, while neither Celtic’s Scott McDonald or Joshua Kennedy of Nagoya Grampus have looked at ease leading the Aussie line. Other possibles such as Alex Brosque and Bruce Djite are still too raw at this level. Kewell, on the other hand, would be a much better fit.

Because of Milan Baros’ unavailability through injury, Kewell has spent much of this season in Turkey up front for Galatasaray and has let no one down, scoring nine goals in his first 16 league games.

“In terms of experience, Harry is the No1 contender to be our striker,” says Verbeek. “He’s done it before. He’s done it very well. He’s been impressive with Galatasaray and I’ve taken note.

“Of course, we know what a fantastic job he can do for us out wide, but I do have other good options in that area.”

The section of the Liverpool crowd who used to barrack him for his apparent porcelain physique and an alleged lack of commitment would not recognise this new-look Kewell. Leaner and stronger than he has been for years, he has found a new lease of life in Istanbul and undoubtedly owes much of this metamorphosis to the excellent conditioning regime of his long-time personal trainer, Les Gelis.

Sadly for Kewell, Gelis decided to return to his family in England at the turn of the
year and now the onus is on his successor, ex-Australia rugby union physio Dave Bick, to have his client fit and firing for what surely will be his last shot at World Cup glory.