Harry Kewell on his memories of Istanbul 2005, what’s gone wrong at Liverpool and living with Westlife’s Nicky Byrne
We spoke with former Premier League forward Harry Kewell ahead of the return of the Premier League this weekend.
The former Australia international talks us through leaving Leeds, what he thinks has happened at Liverpool and being friends with Westlife’s Nicky Byrne.
Kewell will be picking his Leeds United v Sheffield United 5-A-Side team on our social channels in the coming days.
Leaving Leeds United
I have great, great memories of my time at Leeds United but the opportunity came for me to move on and there were about seven or eight clubs that were seriously interested in me at the time.
But when I spoke with Gerard Houlier, the way he spoke about football was just phenomenal. His vision completely sold it for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I had interviews with AC Milan and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, these are clubs and managers that are very respectable and they put their pitches forward as well, but speaking to Houlier just got me over the line. He told me what he wanted to do with his Liverpool squad and I knew I had to be a part of it.
I don’t have any regrets at all about choosing Liverpool over Arsenal. Yes, they went on to complete that unbelievable invincible season and it was truly phenomenal what they achieved and I always had a lot of respect for Arsene Wenger and his interest in me.
But for me a Champions League is something that every player wants to get their hands on.
Memories of Istanbul 2005
I have two memories from that night in Istanbul. I have my own personal memory of the game and a memory of my team as a whole.
On a personal note it was a very frustrating night because it’s an occasion that every player wants to take part in.
Aside from a World Cup final it’s the biggest game you could play in. As much as I’d have loved to have played in a World Cup final, I don’t think I’d have ever made one playing for Australia, whereas with a club like Liverpool you always have a chance of playing in a European cup final and it’s something I got to do twice.
The one in 2005 I was fighting through an injury all year. I had just got close enough to full fitness but I knew that straight after the season I was going in for a surgery.
Rafa Benitez had confidence in me to go and lead the line and I felt like I did that for the first 20 minutes of the game. But I went into a tackle with Gennaro Gattuso and my groin just snapped.
There was nothing I could have done about it. I had to move on and watch my team go 3-0 down knowing I couldn’t do anything about it, it hurt. It was disappointing because I was always a team player; you could ask anyone that. But I had to just sit there and watch.
But then you flip it and look at it from a different angle. You play football knowing you’re in a team sport; it’s not just an individual game. Individuals may win games, but teams win competitions.
So for me to have been a part of the team that won that night was something special. I put my individual feelings to one side because I’m playing a team sport. If it meant that I had to sacrifice myself for the team, then I’d do it, and the same could be said for all of the lads in that team, I’m sure.
You play a team game to win competitions and I couldn’t have been prouder of my team that night. They gave it everything and they deserved everything they got.
I wasn’t in the dressing room at half-time in Istanbul so I don’t know what was said at the time; I was in the treatment room because my muscle was hanging halfway down my leg. I was being treated and wrapped in ice.
The rest of the game from half-time onwards was just crazy. Me and Steve Finnan were both in the treatment room at first, when we were 3-0 down.
I remember hearing a slight roar and the doctor came running in to tell us we’d just scored. ‘Fantastic’, we thought.
We’re both wrapped in ice at this point. A couple of minutes later we heard another roar and the doc comes running in again to tell us we’d scored again. Five or so minutes later he’s come running in a third time to tell us we’d got a penalty.
In that moment me and Steve ripped all of the ice off and hobbled out onto the sidelines and ended up watching the rest of the game from there. Like I said, I couldn’t be more proud of what I witnessed that night from my team.
It was such a wonderful experience and it’s something Liverpool pride themselves on; competing at the highest level.
Not just the players, but the fans as well. They expect their team to be challenging for Premier League and European cups. To have delivered that for them and to go back and witness that group of supporters celebrating was just a phenomenal achievement.
What’s gone wrong at Liverpool
It’s a difficult one when it comes to Liverpool because they’ve been the hottest team on the planet for three years now.
It’s just that this year, they’ve backed off. That three years of being phenomenal and playing at a level that arguably no one has even come close to touching before looks like it’s taken its toll a little on the players. They were blowing away teams left, right and centre. But you don’t turn into a bad player or a bad team overnight.
They’ve done enough to win games this season and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best players, the best training facilities and the best coaching staff on board, at the end of the day that little round thing has to go in the back of the net.
Hitting the post, the side-netting or missing the target doesn’t count for anything, and I just think Liverpool are going through a period where nothing seems to be going for them. Things haven’t worked out this season but they just need to keep doing what they’re doing because, like I said, the performance levels haven’t dropped in my opinion.
There’s a big few weeks coming up for Liverpool now; they have to work very hard to break into that top four and they’ve got to go out and prove not only to themselves but to the rest of the world why they’re Premier League champions.
There’s no way Jurgen Klopp is under pressure at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool have always had great managers in charge, but they were looking for something special and they found it in Jurgen. What he’s done and how he’s brought Liverpool to where they are today is unbelievable.
I’m not sitting here making excuses for them but they’ve had a lot of injuries they’ve had to contend with this season and that’s not something they’ve had to face in recent years.
Every team has that problem at one stage or another, though. You have to be able to adapt, but for me Klopp is under no pressure whatsoever. The only pressure he’s under will come from himself.
On Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara
When Klopp brought Diogo Jota in I was surprised, because I didn’t think anyone could break that front three for Liverpool.
But I actually think he’s been one of the singings of the season; he’s fitted in perfectly. The way he plays suits Liverpool and he really hit the ground running when he joined. He was hit with an injury which hasn’t helped but he’s back fit and firing again now which is great.
I think Thiago Alcantara is one of the best players in the world. People might disagree with that but I think he’s just trying a little bit too hard at the moment. His vision is brilliant, his distribution is excellent. He’s just got to adapt to the English way. Once he’s done that, Liverpool have got a phenomenal midfielder on their hands.
When people say you need to have relationships with certain teammates in football – particularly in that midfield area – I do agree to some extent, but unfortunately we’re now playing in a time where games are coming thick and fast.
It’s impossible to be able to have partnerships that can play together consistently. You can probably play a pairing for maybe 30 games in a season absolute maximum, hoping they both stay injury and suspension free.
So you need at least four different options and connections in that midfield area, so it shouldn’t matter that Thiago hasn’t been able to play with Jordan Henderson as much as we’d have perhaps liked to have seen this season.
Liverpool do have those connections I talk about, but it’s just that people want to see the same players alongside each other week-in, week-out, and I just don’t think you can do that in this day and age.
Does a prime Harry Kewell get into the current Liverpool team?
Does a prime Harry Kewell get into this Liverpool team? I’d have to say yes; I’ve always been a very confident player and I’ve always understood the game.
I’d back myself though, and I’d expect to be challenged for a place but I used to thrive under that kind of competition for places. It only brought the best out of me.
I would have loved to have been able to compete with this team and see what I could have done.
Steven Gerrard was always a leader
Steven Gerrard was around 23 when I joined Liverpool and in my own experiences I’ve only ever seen him as the ultimate professional. He was never really one to talk; he was more of a leader.
He’d show his attributes, set the standards by being the first one out there in training and the last one off the pitch. That’s what a captain should do; lead by example.
I’ve played with a lot of captains in my life and he’s one of the best. He’s not a talker, he’s a doer. I’ve always looked at my captains in games where we haven’t done so well and if you saw them running and making tackles and creating chances, you know you’ve got to meet his standards, whereas if you see your captain walking around not really doing much, you’re going to think ‘well, why should I bother?’
Stevie was always a leader in that way and he’s done a wonderful job up at Rangers. It’s taken time but everyone knows if you give someone like that long enough in a job, they’ll deliver.
He’s had to go up there and turn them into a better team year on year, and this season has been exceptional from his Rangers side.
Future looks bright for Chelsea
It’s a difficult one when it comes to Frank Lampard at Chelsea because again, you’re talking about giving someone time to build a team. I thought he did a phenomenal job all things considered in that first year at Chelsea with the players at his disposal, he got them into a great position in the table by the end of the season.
Then in the summer we don’t know whether it was him who brought the players in or someone else, but he had to work with a new group of players and I while I thought he’d done quite well.
Unfortunately we work in a business where if the owner isn’t happy, then he has a right to change things. It’s his club; he has a right to bring in whoever he wishes to come in and improve things.
We all know Chelsea have the potential to become a great team and we’ll never know whether Frank Lampard could’ve done something special with them.
Thomas Tuchel has enjoyed a good start but I don’t think you can judge a manager on his first few games in charge. You have to wait and see what he can bring because players can turn up a little bit more and be something different when there’s a new person in charge. We have to give Tuchel some time and see what he can bring but the future does look bright for Chelsea right now.
As far as Lampard is concerned, my advice to him would be to get back into management. I love the job, I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world.
The pressure that comes with it is great. I enjoy doing the job at the level that I’m at, in League Two. I think it’s a great league, it’s a place where you can really get stuck in and you have to be very adaptive. You have to go back to basics at times; you don’t have six or seven training pitches to work on, you don’t have the wonderful travel arrangements. It’s tough.
I’d like to see some of these ex-professionals-turned-managers come down to the lower leagues to really show that they love the job and, like I said, it’s a great league for managers to show what they can do.
In the lower leagues, all the players want to do is learn and improve. I’d love to see more of those big names coming down to the lower levels and working their way up to the top.
Aguero’s next move
I personally think Sergio Aguero will go back to Spain. I can’t see him playing for another Premier League club, purely because of what he’s achieved at Manchester City.
He’s had a phenomenal career and I take my hat off to him. He was an exceptional striker before Pep Guardiola came to the club, but Pep has somehow made him even better.
Whatever his next choice is, he deserves to go where he wants. He’s worked hard to establish himself as one of the best strikers in the game, English fans have welcomed him and accepted him and he’s given us some fantastic moments.
Let him go off and enjoy the rest of his career wherever that may be.
Man City’s Aguero replacement
I think Sergio Aguero’s exit leaves Manchester City pretty much open to bring in whoever they want. I think every single top striker will be ringing their agents and clubs will be petrified of losing their main forwards.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Gabriel Jesus is a fantastic player who still has a lot to offer Manchester City, and maybe it lands on him to lead the line now.
But knowing Man City and knowing Pep Guardiola, they don’t just want to win one trophy. They want to challenge for every trophy, every season. And to do that you need that depth up-front.
I think they’ll go for a striker this summer, whether it’s a top, top player or whether it’s a young gem, it’s up to them. But I’d be baffled if they didn’t bring in a forward this summer.
Harry Kane is an interesting one and a potential replacement for Sergio Aguero. I know there’s a lot of talk about it potentially happening but for me it would just look funny seeing him in another team, simply because he is Mr Tottenham Hotspur.
There’s a lot of things in place at Spurs which make them one of the most promising teams in the league. Their stadium is one of the best in the league and the relationship Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have developed is phenomenal. They’re probably only four more players away from making a serious bid for silverware.
I know everyone has a go at Jose Mourinho but the guy is a serial winner so I think they’re in good hands with him. We’re very quick to criticise him but it’s a tough job and we can only prepare our teams the best way we can.
Living with Westlife’s Nicky Byrne
Me and Nicky Byrne lived together for a little while when we played for Leeds. I’m a big fan of his and I’ve always been very supportive of what he’s done, which I suppose makes me a fan of Westlife.
Nicky was a great lad; honestly we were the best of friends and the worst of enemies at the same time. I think it’s just because we spent so much time together we were both very competitive and we’d always get the hump with one another if we’d lost a game against each other. We’d end up not speaking to each other and then the next day we’d be friends again.
The one thing I do remember is that he wasn’t a bad goalkeeper at all. He was a great shot-stopper and he was great with his feet. But the one thing he did most was sing. He’d always be walking around the house singing and I always thought ‘you’ve actually not got a bad voice, mate!’ We always used to say he should go off and become a singer and look at him now.
He always wanted to play football but it didn’t work out for him. Fortunately enough though he’s ended up being in one of the world’s biggest boybands.
I haven’t spoken to him for ages, but I see all of his stuff on Instagram and all that kind of stuff. He still looks the same these days as he did when he was 16 years old. I hear Westlife are starting up again so good luck to him; if his songs come on the radio I’ll always be singing to them because I know most of the words!
Kian Egan, one of the other lads from Westlife, did I’m A Celebrity and won it. Nicky would’ve got kicked out first. He’d have been everyone’s best friend for a day but then you’d have just ended up arguing with him and wanting him voted off. Then I’d have been the next to go, probably!
My wife, Sheree Murphy, did that show a few years back and actually came second to Carol Thatcher. She absolutely loved it. She said it was one of the best experiences she’s ever done.
I’ve never had the call to do it myself but I don’t think I’d do it if I got asked. I need my food, and I think it would just do my head in seeing these people going off and doing challenges and not coming back with food.
Why would you go onto a show where you know you’re going to get put into a situation like that if you know you’re not going to do the challenges?