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How Ange Postecoglou has progressed Harry Kewell’s coaching career


Few will argue that Harry Kewell isn’t one of Australia’s finest ever footballers. With long flowing hair often tamed into an effortless ponytail, Kewell was fleet-footed, devastatingly decisive and supremely successful; he was everything every Australian football fan wanted to be in the early 2000s.

As crazy as it sounds, Kewell was Australia’s answer to David Beckham, someone whose fame transcended pitches and dugouts.

A member of a relative golden age at English football powerhouse Leeds United, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kewell found the net 63 times in 242 appearances for the Yorkshire club. He featured in deep European runs and was voted as the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1999-2000, finding the net 10 times.

Football came easy for Kewell. As cliché as it sounds, on his day he had the ball on a string. While his career never hit the heights many expected it would early in his career, he retired an FA Cup and Champions League winner. Most men can only dream of achieving such feats.

His graduation into coaching hasn’t been so seamless. After retiring at Melbourne Heart (now City) in 2014, Kewell completed his UEFA B and A licenses, before taking charge of Watford’s under-21s side a year later. From there, it was a slippery slope of managerial tenures, bouncing from English lower league side to English lower league without ever getting the same footing in his managerial career as he had done as a player.

After four jobs in as many years, during which time he never won more than 41% of the games he managed at a single club, Kewell’s career in the dugout appeared over before it truly had a chance to begin.

Fast forward three years however and the Australian is on the cusp of lifting the Asian Champions League with Yokohama F. Marinos. How did Kewell grow from an unwanted commodity in English non-league football to 90 minutes away from Asia’s ultimate club prize? The answer may lie with Ange Postecoglou and a few fateful months at Celtic.

How Ange Postecoglou morphed Harry Kewell from managerial zero to hero

Across all sports, great coaches create great coaches. Dutch footballing maverick Rinus Michels, the mastermind behind the Total Football revolution that dominated the 1970s, influenced the coaching career of Johan Cruyff, the strictest disciple of his principles. In turn, Cruyff influenced Pep Guardiola, a contemporary football revolutionary, and Luis Enrique, among others.

From Guardiola came Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta, Manchester United’s Erik Ten Hag. Barcelona coach Xavi and the man behind one of European football’s greatest ever seasons, Xabi Alonso never worked in Guardiola’s backroom but were coached by the Catalan during their careers.

Former New England Patriots coaching stalwart Bill Belichick has a coaching list as long as the Nile. It includes the likes of Nick Saban, Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniels, all of whom have had successful coaching careers. Closer to home, rugby league’s greatest coach Wayne Bennett has been a key coaching influence to Craig Bellamy, Kevin Walters, Stephen Kearney and Paul Green, among others.

Coaching trees are not anomalies. In many ways they are a natural element of professional sports demands. Head coaches or managers are not superhuman, even if they appear to be. Their support network must be as good as they are. The best coaches often boast the best backroom staff, allowing the head of the operation to delegate tasks when necessary.

This, in turn, develops the craft of these coaches, providing an environment for them to fine-tune their craft and perfect the complex tactical and personal elements of modern professional sports coaching.

spurs v newcastle, ange postecoglou, Spurs, harry kewell

One of Australian footballs Australian football has severely lacked a significant coaching tree. Largely, this can be put to a lack of coaching opportunities in top European leagues. Until now. Until Ange Postecoglou. Having spent the best part of his career in the A-League, coaching the Australian national team, or winning league titles in Japan, Postecoglou looked destined for a career on the elite coaching fringes.

A call from Celtic changed that. Postecoglou arrived at a club that’d just lost the league title for the first time in a decade to fierce rivals Rangers. Many in the British media perceived him to be a novice, someone unworthy of standing in the Celtic dugout. Two league titles, won with beautiful football, later and the Australian will be remembered fondly in Glasgow as one of the club’s finest-ever managers.

However, one of the unsung defining legacies of Postecoglou’s Celtic spell will be the impact it had on Harry Kewell’s coaching career. Previously down and out, someone self-described as being ‘harshly done by’ throughout his managerial career, it was a lifeline offered from one Australian to another that jump-started Harry Kewell the manager.

As Andy Harper explains, Kewell arrived in a head coaching role with Postecoglou’s Celtic and “did very well with what his remit was. [He was] incredibly professional [and] brought all his years of experience to support Ange.”

Kewell credits the clarity of Postecoglou’s philosophy and communication for fast-tracking his coaching progression, telling the official Celtic podcast “[Postecoglou] knew exactly what he wanted and the way he presented it was clear cut. There was no black and white. It was just straight black, there you go. That’s how plain and simple it was.”

“I came in and I thought, ‘It’s going to take me a while to understand movement, the patterns and the ideas’,” Kewell said. “After I was here for a week, I knew exactly what was happening. That’s how clear he was.'”

Postecoglou’s tutelage should not get all the credit for Kewell’s present circumstances. Postecoglou’s trailblazing has been equally important. Few managers are as resolute in their beliefs and ability as Ange. Few are capable of blocking the external noise and getting on with the job as he is. And few from his small corner of Earth are capable of persisting with their career and forging a path for fellow Australian coaches both in Asia and Europe when the masses denounced him as crazy.

It’s a career path Kewell and Kevin Muscat, Postecoglou’s successor at Yokohama now plying his trade in China but perennially linked to the Rangers gig, have continued along to great success.

Harper acknowledged as much, stating “One of the great things about [Ange] is the doors he’s opened for other people [in football].”

Muscat led Yokohama to the 2022 J1 League title while Kewell, Muscat’s successor, is on the cusp leading the club to their first Asian Champions League victory. Among Australian managers, Tony Popovic is the only man to win the Asian Champions League. Should Kewell match Popovic’s achievement it would signifiy his remarkable managerial turn around in the last two years.

If we’ve learnt from Harry Kewell’s managerial revitalisation it’s this: Sometimes what’s best for a struggling head coach is a temporary transition away from the dugout and under the wing of a more assured mentor.

Proverbs 27:17 dictates: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The dynamic between Harry Kewell and Ange Postecoglous is yet another example of this passage’s personification.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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