If what we saw at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide Friday night translates into the 2011/12 A-League season, then Harry Kewell’s impact on domestic football in this country will far exceed the already lofty expectations around his arrival.
In one half of football in a pre-season friendly against Adelaide United – his first match for Melbourne Victory – Kewell showed glimpses of what he brings to the table.
There were elegant back heel passes, deft touches that created space and led to attacking runs, and numerous through balls to his attacking partners – chiefly Archie Thompson – that threatened Adelaide’s defenses on several occasions.
It was only a taste of what he’s capable of, but the class was very much there to see.
Adelaide United coach, Rini Coolen, summed it up best: “You could just see, his movements and touches, how he created space for himself… how he puts some very good balls through for players around.”
More importantly for the sceptics, Kewell looked committed, fit and hungry.
He looked every bit the Victory player – already linking well with teammates, particularly Thompson, who played as if he was already in season. And there were already signs that the Kewell-Thompson combo will have defenses across the A-League on edge.
Then factor in Danny Allsopp; Jean Carlos Solórzano, who looked dangerous in his half of football for his new club; the exciting Marco Rojas; and Carlos Hernandez, looking portly as ever but still with the quality to bury the equaliser late in the match. Even if he can’t be relied on for serious minutes, he’ll be a very dangerous impact player off the bench.
When coach Mehmet Durakovic figures out how to best utilise this armory of attacking options, the competition could be in some trouble.
They may leak goals with a defensive structure missing its chief marshal, Kevin Muscat, but they have more than enough ammunition to compensate for it at the other end.
While I thought they would close the gap to yet fall just short of challenging last season’s pacesetters, Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners, I’m prepared to tip Victory as my favourites following Friday night. They showed enough glimpses of what they can produce – the movement, passing and attacking endeavour. It’ll be fun to watch.
Then there was the crowd – 9543… for a pre-season match, remember. Put that into the context of the following: higher than the crowd average of all but two A-League clubs last season (Victory and Adelaide those two clubs); 1150 up on the league’s crowd average last season; and 7274 more than were at Hindmarsh to see Adelaide versus Gold Coast United a fortnight earlier.
(Note: Friday night’s crowd wasn’t inflated by a large contingent of travelling Victory supporters. There were only around 10 to 20 Victory fans in the away supporters’ bay, although there would have been some more spread throughout the rest of Hindmarsh.)
There were boos, hisses and angry chants directed at Kewell from Adelaide’s active supporter group – what you’d expect to their biggest rivals’ new star – but there were also the gasps of approval at his movement, not to mention the constant question, “Is that him?” from those unable to pick him out from his teammates.
Those numbers (remember, a pre-season match – not even within a pre-season competition) would have Football Federation Australia rubbing their hands together with glee for what’s to come when the Kewell-show hits the league.
Yes, there was little to no competition within Adelaide that weekend – no Adelaide clubs in the AFL finals series or other distractions worthy of mentioning – so coverage in the local media was very strong (there was even a ‘Kewell-countdown’ in the local paper).
But that will also be the case when the A-League season kicks into gear across the country; such is the necessity of the later season start.
Do the math and multiply that increase across the league. Kewell-mania could be bigger than we expect.
Follow Adrian on twitter @AdrianMusolino