Not cool, Harry

by Sebastian Hassett on Jul 07, 2011

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My mum knows very little about football. She'll tell you that faster than I will. But, like any casual observer, the prospect of Harry Kewell coming to the A-League has her suddenly very interested in the world game. She's already called me each day for the last week to get the latest news on the will-he-won't-he saga.

I dare say my private example is being played out around dinner tables and workplaces across the country, where non-football people ask those who speak the language: "what is going on with Harry?"

Those who live and breathe our game are almost tiring of the question, for we simply don't know the answer. But the fact remains: this country has never produced a player quite like Harry Kewell, and his ability to inspire admiration from all walks of Australian life remains unparalleled.

While the game itself struggles to do so, Brand Kewell has effortlessly existed in the mainstream sports consciousness for more than a decade. And that is why we need him in the A-League next season. He can put local football in the box office.

That said, the patience of the Australian public is also quite thin. We don't like being taken for granted, and even worse, being treated like mugs. Tall poppies who think they can take advantage of our good nature will find themselves on the outer in a flash. We're fickle like that.

And, perhaps unwittingly, this is the region that Kewell has now blurred into. I have no doubt that he nor his manager Bernie Mandic wanted to go there; they were simply looking to cut the best deal, and their percentage-sharing concept is a brilliant idea.

The problem, in short, was that they took it too far.

Mandic could forseeably argue that Kewell would boost the average away gate by 30 per cent. I won't argue that stat, but to say he deserves 30 per cent of the takings above the club average - and make it the stumbling point of a potential deal - is where it starts to get murky.

We are still building the A-League, and we are trying to build loyalties between teams and their cities and regions, rather than players. As has been put to me several times, imagine if Newcastle go on a monster run of wins, as they did in season two, and finish the year pulling in crowds of 20,000 on their own accord. Does Kewell deserve 30 per cent of that 'extra' gate when he comes to town? Surely not. And what happens Adelaide fills out Hindmarsh for their clash with Melbourne Victory, as they usually do? Another 30 per cent above the average? That's not right.

How would curious Melbourne Heart fans feel about selling out AAMI Park, only to see one in every three new customers see their money go to a player they hope is blanketed by Matthew Thompson?

Brand Kewell has already been damaged by this latest episode. It hasn't been mortally wounded, but it has taken a hit. And if Kewell wants to think about making money beyond his playing days - be it through the media, sponsorships or coaching, he needs to make every step a right one from here. He might be at the end of his career, but this is the start of the rest of his life.

To that end, it's not too late for Harry to save this situation. He needs to be humble enough to instruct Mandic to take the 30-per-cent-take-it-or-leave-it deal off the table, and admit he was probably pushing his luck.

The local fans will forgive him because they want to forgive him. They don't want to be at war with their greatest star. They want to watch him at the A-League next season, and talk about him at the dinner table, where his name still has the power to make football part of the Australian conversation.