Harry Kewell and the adage that not all great players make great managers
There would not be a single Australian football enthusiast who doesn’t smile with respect, admiration, and appreciation for the great Harry Kewell.
It's no surprise given his contribution to the world game at the highest level and how he represented the green and gold with such class and distinction for so many years as a Socceroo.
Harry Kewell on the sidelines leading up to his latest sacking as manager. (The Sporting News)
Through his outstanding playing career, Kewell played for Leeds United, Liverpool, Galatasaray, Melbourne Victory, Al-Gharafa, and Melbourne Heart. He helped Leeds to the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League in 2000–01. Kewell also scored a crucial goal against Croatia in the 2006 FIFA World Cup that took Australia through to the round of 16, in only their second-ever World Cup tournament.
I could go on and on about the virtues of Harry Kewell as a player, but I will resist the urge. Unfortunately, Kewell’s transition to becoming a manager has resulted in a lack of success and moving from one club to another in search of a more stable coaching role. The numbers don’t lie. Kewell delivered a 31.6% win rate as manager of Crawley Town, and 21.4% at Notts County. Not great by anyone’s standards, it’s fair to say.
The almighty thud back down to earth for Kewell came about in March 2021. After less than a year as their manager, he was unceremoniously sacked by English League Two club Oldham Athletic. Talk about a fall from grace for the much-loved Australian. This latest sacking from Oldham would have hit Kewell hard. He is not a man used to losing, and the cut-throat way he was removed from his post would have shaken Kewell to his core.
According to The Sporting News, “prior to arriving at Oldham, Kewell had gone 18 months without a job after a short and unsuccessful stint with Notts County that saw him claim three wins from 14 matches. The Aussie's first senior managerial job came in May 2017 with Crawley Town and remains his longest stint to date after he took charge of 57 games.”
Kewell’s failures as a manager are less than ideal for those who hold him in such high regard in the global football community. They may shock those who believe he possesses an elite football mindset, having matched motors as a top-line footballer with some of the world’s biggest clubs and players.
Kewell seemed singlehandedly capable of turning an entire game on its head on the world stage as a player. The man dominated for Leeds and Liverpool in his heyday. Like you, I have often wondered how this elite playing capability hasn’t transferred into his managerial career, given his intricate knowledge from a strategic and hands-on perspective.
Kewell is not the first big-name player to fail as a manager. This tale we know only too well. There are usually some common reasons for this failed transition beyond not having the proper infrastructure, budget, and talent within their team to set them up for genuine success.
Questioning, challenging, and advocating for his team. Harry Kewell the motivator. (Sky Sports)
Compared to a manager, the success criteria for being a player are chalk and cheese. Simply put, a player needs to be able to follow instructions and execute their role in the team to the best of their ability. However, a manager needs to provide clear instructions to players with a workable strategy and motivate them to succeed whilst having a support structure to bring all the pieces together.
A player requires an operational delivery mindset. A manager requires a strategic and motivational mindset. They are fundamentally different skills, and the required level of agile thinking and leadership capabilities differs substantially.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Perhaps Kewell should have completed a lengthy apprenticeship with a highly experienced manager at a successful club. He may have gained the lessons and experience to be a successful manager in his own right. It’s also likely he would be considered for roles at bigger and wealthier clubs than where he has managed to date.
Kewell left Oldham with the club in 16th place in League Two, hardly the type of finale that any Australians wish for him and his managerial career. It will be fascinating to see what is next installed for the great Harry Kewell. I will be watching with bated breath and wishing him every success. He deserves it.
To read more about Harry Kewell and his tenure at Oldham Athletic, click here.