Why Kewell’s managerial career shouldn’t be judged on his winless start at Crawley

Gary Andrews Roar Rookie

By Gary Andrews, Gary Andrews is a Roar Rookie

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    The table doesn’t lie. Played three, lost three, zero points.

    Three games into the season, Harry Kewell’s Crawley Town are officially, currently, the worst team in the English Football League and the only side in League Two not to pick up a single point.

    Add in a 5-1 thrashing against Birmingham City in the League Cup and it’s fair to say it’s a steep learning curve for one of Australia’s most famous footballing sons.

    Kewell’s early season travails continue to make headlines in Australia. Fox Sports led with ‘Socceroos legend in for criticism after three losses‘, while a few calls of #KewellOut could be found on Twitter and more than a few murmurings of discontent on fans forums.

    Three games in and Kewell could already be said to be under pressure.

    Does this mean the obituaries should already be written for Kewell’s managerial career? Even after two games the Australian headlines were taking a decidedly negative turn, Kewell’s status as one of the country’s greatest ever players notwithstanding.

    It would be easy to write off the rookie boss as out of his depth and another statistic in the old adage that great players don’t make great managers. Easy, and not entirely representative of Crawley’s current position.

    The role at the Broadfield Stadium is a difficult one. Not that Crawley is a particularly inhospitable place, it’s a perfect pleasant lower league stadium in the outer suburbs of a perfectly pleasant English town.

    The only danger to anyone visiting is missing kick-off due to the regular traffic jams around Gatwick Airport. But it is a club that has been on the slide in recent seasons.

    To trace Crawley’s current malaise, you have to go back to 2008, when the Red Devils were still a non-league team and Steve Evans was in charge. Up to that point, Crawley had tended to plod around in the lower mid-table echelons of the Conference, rarely troubling either end of the table and more notable for their frequent points deductions.

    The arrival of Evans, an abrasive Scot with a penchant for touchline bans and feuding through the press, coincided with a substantial injection of cash into the Sussex club that turned Crawley into a more disliked non-league version of Chelsea.

    In non-league, where a strong amateur ethos remains, blowing your competitors out of the water financially by paying six figure sums for players was somewhat frowned upon. Combined with Evans, plenty of non-league was perfectly happy to let the Football League have them when they won promotion in 2011.

    A second successive promotion rapidly followed, despite the selling of top scorer Matt Tubbs and the departure of Evans to Championship Rotherham, claiming he felt he’d taken the club as far as he could.

    Evans may not have been popular with the wider football community, but he was effective. With a win percentage of 44 per cent, none of the six bosses in seven years that have followed the Scot have been anywhere near as effective. Dermot Drummy, Kewell’s predecessor at the Broadfield, managed just 15 per cent despite an encouraging early season start.

    Crawley managed three seasons in League One and burned through as many managers. Ritchie Barker led the team to a respectable mid-table finish but was sacked after flirting with the vacant position at Portsmouth. John Gregory was forced to step down due to health problems, and caretaker Dean Saunders oversaw relegation.

    At the same time, funds were drying up at the Broadfield. Benefactor Bruce Winfield had passed away and budgets were tightened. Crawley were no longer outgunning the competition, but were struggling to keep up with a modest budgets. Last season, the Red Devils were one of a number of teams sucked into a battle to avoid relegation to non-league.

    Which is were Kewell comes in – the pet project of current owner, Turkish millionaire Ziya Eren, who has stated an ambition to turn Crawley into a Championship side.

    Like Drummy before him, Kewell’s management experience comes from managing youth teams. And like Drummy before him, his side is unlikely to challenge for the title. Many of the squad from last season still remain while signings such as Thomas Verheydt have yet to gel with their teammates.

    Australian soccer player Harry Kewell and Melbourne Victory coach Mehmet Durakovic. AAP Image/Julian Smith

    AAP Image/Julian Smith

    Again, does this make Kewell a bad manager? Arriving at a club with little in the way of managerial stability in recent years largely populated by a lower-to-mid table squad would be a challenge for any manager, let alone a Champions League winner of any nationality who has never managed in League Two.

    But before Kewell is written off as a glamourous yet expensive mistake, consider this – last season Exeter City narrowly missed out on promotion after losing in the play-off final, yet were rock bottom of the division in November and only Leyton Orient and Newport spent more time in the drop zone than the Grecians.

    Cambridge United, the most recent victors against Kewell’s Crawley, also spent much of the first two months in the drop zone before finding form and challenging for the top seven. League Two is one of those funny, tight divisions where a few wins can put you within touching distance of the playoffs and a bad run of three games can suck you within touching distance of the bottom two.

    It’s far better to start slow and build than to follow Crawley’s route last season of starting strongly before dropping away badly. If Kewell’s side manages to find form, early season anguish will soon be forgotten.

    And if Kewell crashes and burns? A lot depends on how much he really wants a managerial position in England. Certainly few clubs in the Football League would be willing to take a punt on a novice who has been deemed to have failed at a mid-table League Two team, although he may find a willing taker in the Conference.

    Melbourne Heart player Harry Kewell announces his retirement

    (AAP Image/David Crosling)

    Alternatively, there’s always the A-League, where failure at Crawley will not deter any number of Australian clubs who would love to have a marquee manager in the hotseat.

    As John Aloisi has shown, even failing badly in Australia doesn’t stop you if you want it enough. After a disastrous spell at Melbourne Heart, the fellow Socceroos legend has turned Brisbane Roar into respectable finals contenders and is learning all the time.

    Alternatively, Kewell could turn to what many consider his natural habitat: the pundit’s sofa. Last season, Kewell regularly popped up on BT Sport’s Saturday afternoon show and looked comfortably in his element.

    But Kewell rarely takes the easy option. This is a man who left Australia for England at the age of 15, spent time at Galatasary despite their history with his former club, Liverpool, and who has been openly critical of younger Aussies for not taking chances abroad.

    Kewell, as ever, is building his managerial career his way.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • August 21st 2017 @ 4:58am
      Fadida said | August 21st 2017 @ 4:58am | ! Report

      While I hope he can turn it around I can’t say that I have much faith he will. Nothing I have heard from Kewell suggests he is suited to management. Unless talking in cliches is a desirable trait.

      Would an A-league side take him? No, not if he fails at a standard below the A-league. Realistically he needs to be an assistant somewhere

      • August 21st 2017 @ 3:22pm
        Gary Andrews said | August 21st 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

        Kewell certainly talks a good game, but there’s definitely a lapse into cliche. The jury’s out on whether he’s cut out for management, especially after his spell with Watford U23s.

        While I think it would be a brave club that takes on a manager who has failed in League 2 in England, I suspect there’s a few A League clubs who would consider him worth a punt on his standing in Australian soccer. And he may find his feet in Australia versus what is, to be generous, a very challenging first managerial role. It’s a big may though.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 6:38am
      Waz said | August 21st 2017 @ 6:38am | ! Report

      I’ve actually lost interest in the likes of Kewell; part of a golden generation that are about as helpful to Australian domestic football as the AFL are; sadly he seems to view his home country’s domestic league as a backwater not worthy of any young footballers time inspite of all the evidence to the contrary. The great irony is, while he struggles his way to the sack Mooy, who was made in the A League, powers on.

      • August 21st 2017 @ 8:48am
        Fadida said | August 21st 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        It’s the comments along the lines of “my generation wanted it more, today’s lot lack ambition and hunger” from he and Neill that irritate me. It was easier to make it then

      • August 21st 2017 @ 10:29am
        Lionheart said | August 21st 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        to be fair Waz, Harry had two stints in the A League and was ever a proud Socceroo. It’s not as if he’s snubbed his nose at us. He runs an academy in Melbourne which tours across Australia (including country towns, QLD even) and is very much hands-on at his coaching clinics.
        It’s sad to hear you compare him to AFL, and write him off as golden generation – bah, spoilt brat, walked out on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was offered a trial in the UK as a teenager. He won that trial through the academy he attended while playing junior football, and he was given a contract with Leeds from that trial. His plan is to offer trials like he had, to his academy players.
        His wife is English, no surprise that he might live there too.
        There are several pathways to the top in football – that is what one of our strongest points, the world game – no need to be critical of someone who prefers a different path.
        Harry Kewell deserves a bit more respect than you’ve shown him here Waz.

        • Roar Pro

          August 21st 2017 @ 11:05am
          David McDaniel said | August 21st 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          Well said, I thought he had done some academies but was too lazy to look them up! 🙂

        • August 21st 2017 @ 2:21pm
          Waz said | August 21st 2017 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

          Lion heart,

          The A League struggles in a competitive market, one which will make the code stronger if we compete smartly, and smartly includes not putting the HAL down. He’s entitled to his opinion and I’ve just lost interest in him, I can see the improvements taking place at grassroots and I can see the emergence of new academies that will further improve the situation. I’m kinda over this “in my day we had it tough stuff”, sure they did – but it’s improved since then, try acknowledging that?

      • August 21st 2017 @ 3:58pm
        Gary Andrews said | August 21st 2017 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

        Good debate here. I can see where Kewell was coming from with his recent comments – the A League has something of a history of players moving abroad, struggling for game time and returning to the comfort of a professional league, and it’s not unfair to suggest that’s it’s a slightly different landscape than when Kewell was a teenager. There’s also a separate debate of whether young Australian players are leaving for Europe before they’re ready (although Kewell himself was clearly ready at 15). I know that debate has graced The Roar’s pages before and will no doubt do so again.

        I don’t think anybody would doubt his commitment to the Socceroos though, or Australia.

    • Roar Pro

      August 21st 2017 @ 9:55am
      David McDaniel said | August 21st 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      They have lost their last 2 games 1-0 and would have won with better finishing. He has had no time to bring in new players etc so he has to work with what he has.

      I am sick of the tall poppy syndrome, he is an Australian footballer and one of the best we have produced. Give the guy a break, he is not a politician, journalist or a public speaker, he is trying to make it in football after finishing his career in the game he loves.

      With the number of ex players of professional sports that can’t make it and commit suicide, I wish him all the luck in the world and will be following his progress with interest.

      • August 21st 2017 @ 3:45pm
        steve said | August 21st 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

        Yeah before we write him off as already failing and due the sack this early in the season, maybe we could know what conditions he is working under. What are the abilities of the players he has at his disposal? Was he allowed to bring in new players before the season started? Does he have money to spend on players? Does he have sufficient support staff? I get the feeling its very much the Tall Poppy Syndrome alive and well when it comes to the likes of Harry Kewell. You should hear how the supporters of his former club Liverpool talk about him. Its quite the disgrace as a Liverpool supporter myself. I really do think many just want him to fail.

        • August 21st 2017 @ 4:03pm
          Gary Andrews said | August 21st 2017 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

          It was a leftfield appointment and in both the UK and Australia there does seem an expectation he won’t succeed.

          The players he has at his disposal are… varied to limited. To describe Crawley as having any particular kind of playing style over recent seasons would be charitable. There are a few players who would be coveted by other sides in the division – Joe McNerney is a solid centre-half, Andre Blackman is a talented if erratic left back and Dean Cox, who has struggled for game time under Kewell for reasons unknown, is a talented, tricky winger who plenty of other sides would be keen on.

          Fans don’t seem too enamoured by Kewell’s signings thus far – and he has added half a dozen or so – but this isn’t a side that anybody would be expecting to challenge at the top end of the table.

          • August 21st 2017 @ 4:59pm
            steve said | August 21st 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

            Sure that fine. I was simply making the point that we don’t really know what conditions he is working under player wise or if he even has a snippet of money to spend. 99.9% of Australians wouldn’t have even heard of Crawley Town and I would bet a large majority of football supporter’s in this country wouldn’t have even heard of them either. Yet people are comfortable to write he will fail or I expect he will fail without knowing anything at all. Tall Poppy Syndrome at work I think. Australians love to tear down successful fellow Australians. That’s a sport Australia are world champions at.

            • August 21st 2017 @ 6:15pm
              Gary Andrews said | August 21st 2017 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

              To be honest, Crawley probably don’t register too much on many British football fans’ radars these days as well. And tearing sporting heroes down is definitely a prime sport for the UK as well. If the Ashes didn’t go ahead this year, it could have been an alternative competition between the two countries.

              But yes, you’re right, few people in Australia will be overly au fait with the conditions he’s working within. Hopefully this piece gives a little more insight. He has a bit of cash, and a few half decent players, but it’s a very challenging environment for any manager to head into, let alone a rookie of Kewell’s stature.

              I had Crawley down as relegation favourites for 2017-18 before Kewell was appointed. Sadly, while I’d love him to succeed, my view hasn’t changed thus far.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 11:14am
      mattq said | August 21st 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

      to be fair on Harry, I have’t heard him talk like some of the other golden generation. and he did come and play here.

    • August 21st 2017 @ 10:47pm
      Arto said | August 21st 2017 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

      Tbh, I was a bit surprised by the title of this article vs. the content – I wonder whether the editor has spiced things up in order to get clicks (a necessary evil, I realise)…

      Good article nonetheless, I think it’s very early days and particularly given, as you wrote, the quick nature of a change in ladder position far too early to deduce anything of Kewell’s potential as a manager. Even his stint as a U-23 manager for Watford needs to be viewed in the right perspective – he may not have been there to ‘get results’, but rather develop young players – often in coaching the 2 don’t easily mix and so he probably should be commended for his perserverence.

      Here’s to hoping he sticks to his principles and the results turn around so that he is successfull in his career Choice – plus, it’ll help his budding ‘expert commentator’ career too if has some good results to back his credibility! 😉

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