Interview - The Sunday Telegraph, 14th June '09

Kewell Rebuilt Body & Soul

By Chris Wilson

HARRY Kewell was in a hospital bed in 30C heat, the air-conditioning turned off to prevent a risk of infection to his surgically repaired foot.
The Socceroos superstar had just finished the 2006 World Cup as a spectator on crutches, but there in hospital he began plotting his journey to South Africa 2010.

Kewell now declares he is bigger, stronger and faster than at any point in his career. And the man who helped rebuild him says the job's not finished.

Socceroos physiotherapist Les Gelis has been Kewell's "bodyguard'' for three years. Both have torn themselves away from family this year to live and train together in Turkey, the focus on transforming Kewell into Australia's chief World Cup weapon.

"He was sitting there and he was pretty dejected,'' Gelis recalls of visiting Kewell in hospital after the 2006 World Cup. "It was that critical point where he could have said this is all too hard. To his credit, he made the resolution to getting back to being the best athlete he could. That was the turning point.''

The result of the work was obvious when Kewell stripped off his Socceroos shirt last weekend, after Australia qualified for the 2010 World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Qatar. "I know I've added more muscle because the majority of my pants don't fit me no more, they're too tight around my quads,'' Kewell joked in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph.

Kewell, 30, has never been fitter. He has cut his body fat to 7 per cent, despite increasing his weight from 79kg to 81kg in the past year. He is running 2.7sec over 20m, about 15 per cent faster than two years ago. His vertical leap has pushed up to 60cm, a 25 per cent improvement.

Gelis says Kewell has become a "more robust athlete''. ``He was in a chronic injury cycle, he'd lost size, weight, he was getting through what he had to do,'' Gelis said. "But in the last three years his body shape has changed.

"He hasn't maximised yet. I think he's probably got another 10-20 per cent in him in terms of those raw measures of power and speed.''

Kewell spent nine hours on Thursday filming a sponsorship campaign to become the new face of Solo soft-drink.

He recalled memories of the old TV ads, where the rugged Solo man would slide down embankments in a kayak and wrestle crocodiles. The new Solo man says his return to form has been a two-man job.

Kewell will take a few weeks off after Wednesday's game against Japan at the MCG. He said it had been "inevitable'' the Socceroos would qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but he denied he was seeking redemption.

"I'm not going to say this is going to be my World Cup, I'm just going to enjoy it. It was disappointing how it ended last time, but I can't go out there and say I've got to make up for what happened,'' he said.

Gelis sees it differently. "Knowing Harry, knowing his motivation and his drive, it's unfinished business,'' he said. "I know his drive is to not leave anything behind, to give it his best shot.''