Interview - The Australian, 5th Jan '09
Harry Kewell and found peace and goals since moving to Turkey
By Cassandra Murnieks
SURROUNDED by mosques and living with the constant rhythm of Islamic prayer five times a day, Harry Kewell has finally found peace, hope - and goals.
After five mostly tortured years at Liverpool, where he was dogged by injury and the derision from fans who declared him a waste of money, Kewell has started what he calls "a new chapter" in his career and life in the unlikely setting of Istanbul, a beautiful seaport in Turkey.
He spends his time wandering around the Grand Bazaar and sipping apple tea at the local cafe, delighting in the change of pace.
It's a far cry from Smithfield, the working-class suburb in southwestern Sydney his family still calls home. And it is a world away from the bright lights and incessant pressure of England's Premier League.
"It was something different in moving to Turkey," Kewell, 30, says.
"The people who live in Istanbul are very passionate, but this can be their worst enemy as they tend to stay in Turkey and do not go and experience other cultures.
"The thing that hit me when I moved here were the mosques. I live near one, and they are quite breathtaking. The praying is quite soothing.
"Everyone talks about the Turkish coffee and the tea here, but with dinner I just have a cappuccino. My son, though, is proving to be English, as he likes to drink tea all the time."
Many saw Kewell's off-season move to Galatasaray as taking the easy option after a succession of injuries ate away at the career of a player rated by many as the best Australia has produced.
Turkey's Super Lig is hardly the hub of European football, and clubs such as AS Roma, Spartak Moscow and England's FA Cup champion Portsmouth came knocking on Kewell's door once he was released by Liverpool.
But away from the fishbowl existence in England, where the tabloid press is constantly nipping away, Kewell has produced his best form since leaving Leeds for Liverpool in 2003.
An ankle injury and hernia operation brought him back to Sydney last month, but that has been the only setback as he scored eight goals in his first 16 games for his new club.
Fans have taken him to their heart, regularly singing his name to the tune of Daddy Cool.
The Turkish league is on its winter break until January 25 and Galatasaray, who are sitting third - a point behind leaders Sivasspor and Trabzonspor - are hoping to have their prize recruit back and in form for a run at the championship.
"Liverpool fans don't compare at all to Galatasaray fans," Kewell says. "The fans are the most dedicated I have seen.
"We were at a game last year in Germany and there were 62,000 fans, but 40,000 of them were our fans. They travel all over Europe to watch us play. They are totally fanatical and the team love the support.
"There are about 70 million people living in Turkey, and about 25 million of them are Galatasaray fans. People will come up to you to get an autograph or just to say 'hello' and then they will leave you alone. They are nice and polite people and know how to handle you. It's a nice change."
And Kewell certainly doesn't see this a step back in his career.
"The football in Turkey is quite similar to the Premier League," he says.
"It's fast and furious. There is also a lot of attacking ... if you have a good mentality, there are more opportunities to score here. We may not have the same calibre of players, but the game is highly regarded here.
"Besitkas, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray all do well in Europe, so the Super Lig definitely has a good reputation. It's hard to compare leagues.
"At the end of the day, the Premier League attracts the best players in the world. The big leagues in Europe are the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, but I think that the Super Lig is just behind those three.
"The only area that is weak and needs to be worked on in Turkey is defence. But the league is attracting some class players and the competition seems to be improving."
Next year's World Cup is also never far from his thoughts as the countdown begins, with the finals in South Africa just 521 days away.
Kewell played his first game for the Socceroos as a 17-year-old in 1997 and has been in the trenches as soccer has fought for credibility and recognition in this country.
The whole nation rode the fairytale to Germany in 2006, but Kewell cautions against getting ahead of ourselves this time with a crucial qualifying match coming up against Japan in Yokohama on February 11.
"We have had a good qualifying campaign so far, but it's not over until that last game," he says.
"In saying that, we need a bit of a kick up the backside. Pim (Verbeek) has been disappointed the last two games, so we need to get that right for the next qualifier.
"The squad is looking strong. There is always talk of the best squads we have had in the past, but I believe we have a really strong squad at the moment.
"It all comes down to opportunity and any of the boys are willing to step up to the challenge."
However, with three wins from three and sitting on top of the Asian group, the signs look promising as Verbeek builds on the platform carefully laid by fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
Verbeek has been in control of the national team since December 2007 and has a 62 per cent winning rate.
"Pim has had a very good start with the Socceroos," Kewell says. "I guess he has learnt off the best in Guus (Hiddink). He works with a great team and hopefully we can repay his faith.
"I have gotten on well with all of the managers. Guus was strict and strong to work with, but it was a pleasure to have played underneath him."
If the Socceroos do qualify for the World Cup, they won't have the element of surprise this time.
The rest of the world won't have forgotten Australia qualified for the knockout stage and only lost to eventual champion Italy after a disputed penalty kick in the dying minutes.
"No one expected us to do so well in Germany, so obviously that is going to place more pressure on us come 2010," says Kewell, who missed the loss to Italy because of gout.
"It won't be just the fans who will be watching us closely.
"I think a lot of other teams will as well."
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