Walk into an interview with Harry Kewell and you might expect to be greeted by a chirpy Australian with tales of surf, barbies and stubbies. Think again. This is a quiet and sensitive man who prefers going home to his wife rather than partying with the lads. In fact, you can forget all the antipodean stereotypes, because Kewell is not one for small chat or big predictions. "I just like playing football, really," he says.
Kewell is so unassuming that you want to shake some good old-fashioned Aussie arrogance into him. Ask him what he feels he has achieved so far and the 24-year-old just shrugs his shoulders. "Nothing," is the answer. Ask him what he feels he can bring to a side who have often lacked invention in the final third of the field, and again he refuses to blow his own trumpet. Perhaps a crash course with Steve Waugh's all-conquering cricket team would do the trick?
"Look," he explains, "there's so many things I want to win, so many trophies, and I haven't done that yet. So I've achieved nothing. I've done nothing. Hopefully, at Liverpool I can put that right, but I'm really focused because I've won nothing yet. If I look back at the end of my career and I've still won nothing I'll be very disappointed. I've come to a great club and I'm hoping I can win things."
Kewell's arrival is not so much about winning things but about winning one thing: the Premiership. Gérard Houllier has had almost five years and £100m to deliver the ultimate prize to the Liverpool board, but has so far failed. The steady progress made during the first four years of his reign was overshadowed by last season's débâcle, when the club went 11 League games without a win and then failed to qualify for the Champions' League.
Kewell, it is hoped, can sit behind Michael Owen and provide that all- important link between midfield and attack. "I've played up front for my national team," he says, "and played up front near enough the whole [of last] season for Leeds. I think because I'm left-footed everyone assumes I'm going to want to play on the left side, but that's not the case. I like to play in the middle and on the right. But I'm not going to restrict myself. I'll just play wherever the manager wants me to."
Kewell, who scored 17 goals for an underachieving Leeds side last season, adds: "I hope to bring a big difference to the team in that central position and score more goals for them, but we're going to have to wait and see what happens. There's a lot of responsibility involved in the position, although you've got to take it when you mature as a footballer.
"Players look at senior players to do that and there's a few here who have a lot of weight on their shoulders, so it's to be hoped I can share some of the load. I feel confident I can do it. If you don't feel confident then why are you out on the pitch?"
Houllier knows all about the Liverpool traditions, so it is perhaps no surprise that he has handed Kewell the legendary No 7. The shirt was once worn by Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish, two of Kewell's childhood heroes, and two exponents of what Houllier likes to call "stardom for the team". "Harry's a good team player," the Frenchman says, "and that's what I like about him. If you're a star player you can be a star, but you must be a team player first and foremost. Harry's not the kind of player who plays for his ego or for glory."
Mention the names Keegan and Dalglish, and Kewell's eyes light up. Just for a second, you sense he is about to reveal his ambition to emulate their achievements. But this is still cool Kewell. "I don't know," says the man who supported Liverpool and their Australian player Craig Johnston when he was growing up. "I only know I'm going to go out there and play my game. If I can do my best for Liverpool and the other players can do their best, who knows where it will take us? Everyone says the No 7 shirt is a great number, and at Liverpool it's got a lot of history. I used to wear seven when I was younger so it's a number I love. I'm glad to have it."
Truth be told, Kewell is just happy to be at Anfield. His £5m transfer across the Pennines was shrouded in controversy after his agent, Bernie Mandic, was accused of pocketing £2m for his company from the deal. For a man of principle, such an accusation hurt deeply. "I was disappointed," Kewell says, "because it was my big day. Everyone dreams about that big day when they sign for the club they really want to, but all the stuff that was said and written did put a downer on it. But that's gone now and I'm thoroughly happy to be here."
Having spent his most formative years at Elland Road, Kewell is clearly upset at the acrimonious split. "I was a bit sad at how it ended with Leeds," he admits. "When you've been at a club for nine years, and gone through so many highs and lows, it is disappointing to leave on a low. But I've still got some great friends there and a feeling for the club. I still speak to most of the boys and play golf with Bridgey [Michael Bridges], so that's great."
Liverpool's assault on the Premiership begins with the trickiest of matches, against Roman Abramovich's new-look "Chelski", but Kewell is looking forward to the test. "We'll know just how good we are," he says. Kewell, of course, might have joined the Blues this summer, or indeed any of the number of clubs who were chasing him. Manchester United came particularly close, but the Australian decided against the attraction of signing up for the champions.
"Man U are a great club and anyone would love to join them," he explains. "I'm lucky I had the chance to sit down and speak to them, but I just didn't feel it was right for me. The reasons will remain private, but it was nothing to do with Sir Alex Ferguson, as people have said. Look what he's achieved in his career - why wouldn't I want to play for him?"
Houllier, it would seem, held the better discourse. "As soon as I spoke to the boss my mind was made up that I wanted to come here," Kewell says. "What he said will remain between me and him, but he really got me excited for the new season. I'm raring to go."Reuse content