Kewell profits from the age of player power

The steal of a deal
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The Independent Football

Harry Kewell's transfer from Leeds United to Liverpool may have thrown up more questions than answers, but it has also reaffirmed one undeniable fact. Namely, that the power in football still lies very much with the players.

There were those, including Leeds' former chairman Peter Ridsdale, who predicted that the collapse of ITV Digital and the subsequent lowering of transfer fees and wages would restore parity between clubs and players. With purse strings having to be tightened, the feeling was that the excesses of the post-Bosman years were about to come to an end. How wrong the money men were.

Kewell's move proves that clubs have little, if no, control over a player, particularly one whose contract is nearing its end. Long gone are the days when a manager called X into his office to tell him that the club had sold him to Y, and then sent him off to sign his new deal. As the Australian international demonstrated, the player now tells the club where he wants to go. Much like Lee Bowyer last season, Leeds had no control over Kewell's departure. They received higher bids than the £5m tabled by Liverpool, but were unable to accept them because the player had eyes only for Anfield.

"If someone asked you to go and be a roadsweeper somewhere else and you didn't want to go," says Kewell, who will wear the No 7 shirt made famous by Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish, "why should you have to do that, even if it was to get more money but something you didn't want to do? Don't get me wrong, the other clubs who came for me are great ones, but playing for Liverpool is my main aim."

Some believe that the row will rumble on, but the Liverpool chief executive is not so sure. "It's the law," Rick Parry says. "That's what players are allowed to do. Look at the David Beckham deal. Manchester United had agreed a deal with Barcelona at one price but the player didn't want to go. If you look at the numbers, he has gone to Real Madrid for a lower fee. That is the reality of life. You can't do deals in isolation, it's not about clubs horse-trading players as commodities. Leeds know this, because they agreed a fee with Aston Villa for [goalkeeper] Paul Robinson and the player didn't want to go."

Leeds are £80m in debt but seem powerless to control any of their players' transfers. No wonder, then, the Yorkshire club's new chairman, Professor John McKenzie, is so upset. Leeds spent nine years moulding Kewell into one of Europe's most desirable assets, but have recouped just over £3m. Meanwhile, Kewell's agent, Bernie Mandic, has made his employers, Max Sports, £2m in commission. Not bad for a summer's work.

The same could be said of Gérard Houllier, who has secured his best acquisition as Liverpool manager for a comparative steal. Over the last five years, the Frenchman has deliberately built a solid team on little-known purchases, but following the disappointment of last season, felt compelled to act. "We had spoken about bringing in players who would have the fans on the edge of their seats," says Houllier by way of acknowledging that his side had become too one-dimensional, "and I can't think of a better description for the qualities that Harry will bring."

In real terms, Kewell will be able to offer a much-needed outlet on the left wing, as well as craft behind Michael Owen. "He will bring the missing link to this team," Houllier confirms. "Sometimes we have needed a link between the midfield and strikers. He can score and create goals, and will play an offensive role for the team."

So, too, will Liverpool's other summer signings, Le Havre's duo of Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle, and especially Fulham's attacking full-back Steve Finnan. "He is a modern defender," Houllier says. "He likes to go forward without neglecting his defensive duties. He was recommended to me by our old player Karl-Heinz Riedle, and we have been looking at him for a long time."

The irony that the normally defensive-minded Houllier has bought four offensive players has been lost on nobody. Nor, for that matter, has the fact that Finnan cost £500,000 more than Kewell.