FOOTBALL FRIDAY

Australia's and Leeds ex-star Harry Kewell loving new life as Watford's Under-21 coach

Since last month, the former Liverpool and Socceroo winger has been Watford's Under-21 coach.
Since last month, the former Liverpool and Socceroo winger has been Watford's Under-21 coach. PHOTO: AFP

As a player, Harry Kewell strutted his stuff on football's grandest stages, including a Champions League final and two World Cups.

Yet, the Australian is relishing a new life that takes him to less glamorous destinations like Crewe, Coventry and Colchester.

Since last month, the former Liverpool and Socceroo winger has been Watford's Under-21 coach. While the Hornets have just been promoted to the English Premier League, Kewell's youngsters play in the Professional Development League Two South.

"I'm loving it. I'm falling in love with coaching straight away," Kewell told ESPN FC. "It's hard work, you have to get your sessions and tactics right, but I'm absolutely enjoying it. It's a chance to work with a Premier League club, manage the U-21s and, yes, they can all play."

It's a very different world for the 36-year-old, who retired as a professional in April last year, after a season with Melbourne Heart in the A-League.

After working with junior players through his academy in Australia for a few months, he took his Uefa A and B coaching licences earlier this year, and was surprised by how naturally he took to coaching.

"I did my licences over the summer in Northern Ireland, with people like Francis Jeffers, Shola Ameobi, Robbie Blake," he said. "I wanted to see if I had the fire in the belly and when I did my first assessment the fire was definitely there.

"When I was a player, I didn't think much about being a coach because all I wanted to do is play. But so far I'm really enjoying it."

Watford are back in England's top flight for the first time since the 2006-07 season, with a rejuvenated squad and seasoned manager in Quique Flores. The former Spain international defender has worked at La Liga clubs Atletico Madrid, Valencia and, most recently, Getafe.

The Hornets began the season with a 2-2 draw with Everton, having led twice in the game at Goodison Park. Tomorrow, they face West Bromwich Albion in their first home match at Vicarage Road.

"There's a buzz around the club, a good core of players from U-18 upwards," Kewell said. "It's a great learning curve for me. The manager is confident, yet very open. If you have any questions, he'll explain."

Kewell made his Premier League debut as a 17-year-old, and, by the age of 19, was a regular in a successful Leeds United side that played in the Champions League.

When quizzed about his own playing days, there is a surprising tinge of regret in Kewell's voice, even though he won four major trophies, including the Champions League and FA Cup with Liverpool.

However, his injury curse forced him off after only 23 minutes of Liverpool's 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan, and after 48 minutes of the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham.

"I enjoyed my career and I played at some great clubs, but I didn't do what I could have in my career," he said. "But I'm not the only one who suffered injuries. You can't cry over spilt milk."

For a man who is arguably Australia's most naturally gifted player of all time, Kewell speaks a lot about hard work. So don't expect him to be taking any short cuts when he's putting out the cones for his U-21 side at Watford on the cold and wet winter mornings ahead.

• Jason Dasey is senior editor of the South-east Asia edition of ESPN FC, Singapore's most popular football website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Kewell loving new life in Hornets' nest'. Print Edition | Subscribe