Kewell signs with A-League's Melbourne Victory

Former Leeds and Liverpool winger Harry Kewell will play topflight football in Australia for the first time, agreeing to a three-year deal on Saturday with the A-League's Melbourne Victory.

Updated: August 20, 2011 14:41 IST
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Melbourne: Former Leeds and Liverpool winger Harry Kewell will play topflight football in Australia for the first time, agreeing to a three-year deal on Saturday with the A-League's Melbourne Victory.

The signing ended two months of prolonged negotiations with the Victory and A-League side Sydney after Kewell's contract expired with Turkish club Galatasaray.

Kewell, 32, has never before played in Australia's national league, leaving his hometown of Sydney in 1995 as a teenager to play in England with Leeds then Liverpool. He has played 54 games for Australia since 1996, scoring 16 goals.

Kewell's management team had sought a bonus clause in his contract to reflect attendance increases when and where Kewell played, but it was not known if that clause was included.

"I am proud to be Australian and want to give something back to the game there," Kewell said in a statement. "It has always been my ambition to play in my home country and I am very pleased to have that opportunity by playing for Melbourne Victory."

Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietros said Kewell will bring "the highest level of talent to the club for our supporters."

"Harry is an Australian sporting icon and ... will attract more fans to football and boost greater interest and participation in the sport in Australia," he said. "Our discussions with Harry have been progressing for some time and we are delighted to have completed what is the most significant signing in Australian football and A-League history."

Di Pietros said Kewell, who is on holidays with his family in Portugal, will arrive at the club in early September and would be ready to play in the Victory's opening match of the season against Sydney in Melbourne on Oct. 8.

"It's an unconditional agreement, it's not subject to anything. We've got a contract between us," he said.

Coach Mehmet Durakovic, who envisages playing Kewell as a playmaker behind the strikers, is confident his new signing will be ready for their opening match.

"We're very excited. We had a training session this morning and told the players the good news and all the players are over the moon, and so am I," said Durakovic, who played with Kewell for the Socceroos in the late 1990s.

"Harry's a true professional. I've known him all my life and if there's one thing about Harry, he really looks after his body. On our first game on Oct. 8, Harry will be there."

However, Kewell's career has been blighted by a series of injuries. He played only two minutes of club football in 2010 due to a groin injury.

His former doctor revealed at the World Cup in South Africa last year that Kewell had been diagnosed in 2002 with a rare blood disorder - autoimmune hepatitis - and that it could have been fatal without treatment.

In 2003, his move from Leeds to Liverpool was affected by an adductor problem he believes was wrongly diagnosed and mistreated by the club's doctors. Kewell's 2006 World Cup campaign was also injury-affected, missing the second-round exit against eventual champions Italy.

He was enjoying a strong run with Galatasaray in late 2009 before a recurrence of the groin injury, which was prolonged when doctors stapled a nerve by accident and left him in intense pain.

Regardless, the presence of Kewell - widely regarded as the most talented Australian player of his generation - will be a welcome boost for the local league, which had been struggling to balance expansion plans against falling attendances.

He becomes the A-League's biggest star, following former Aston Villa and Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke - who led Sydney to the first A-League title - and former Liverpool great Robbie Fowler, who played with North Queensland and Perth.

Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley said Kewell's return was a "red-letter day" for the sport in the country.

"The signing of Harry Kewell tells the story of ambition, credibility and growth for the game in Australia," Buckley said. "Harry is rightly acclaimed as Australia's most gifted footballer with a celebrated record of achievement. His homecoming will be hugely popular."

The 32-year-old Kewell played for the Leeds United junior side for one year before joining the senior English team. He scored 45 goals in 181 senior appearances for Leeds before moving to Liverpool in 2003.

At Anfield, Kewell played 93 matches, including a winning Champions League final for the Reds, over six years and scored 12 goals. He moved to Galatasaray in 2008 and scored 23 goals in 61 matches.

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