Tired and bleary-eyed, Socceroos striker Josh Kennedy and wife Jacinta Hamilton wander through Tokyo’s Narita airport looking confused and more than a little out of place.
It’s June 2009 and, with Kennedy having just signed for J-League outfit Nagoya Grampus, the Australian couple and their two young children have arrived in the country to start their new life in Japan.
The first thing that strikes you about the Kennedy family as they wade through Narita airport is their height.
Next to his tall Australian Opals representative basketballer wife, the lanky Socceroos striker seems in his element, but drop the couple into a sea of short Japanese “salary men” rushing to catch flights home at the end of a working day at one of the busiest airports in East Asia, and things are decidedly different.
As the young family makes its way through customs and hurries off to catch their third and final plane in the long journey from Australia to the industrial city of Nagoya they look like Giraffes walking through shrubbery.
While in that moment Kennedy found himself feeling both excited and unsure of exactly what lay ahead of him, he has gone on to be “big in Japan” in both a figurative and literal sense.
Scoring at a rate higher than a goal every second game, the 29-year-old has found a level of consistently that eluded him throughout his nine seasons in Germany – he’s already scored more goals during three seasons in Japan than he did throughout his entire time in Germany.
Of most interest to Socceroos fans though is that this year Kennedy has finally begun to replicate his club form at international level, banging in eight goals in his last six games wearing the green and gold.
With Harry Kewell coming back into the squad for this week’s World Cup qualifiers for the first time this season, the question for coach Holger Osieck is does he drop his inform goal scorer or leave the highest profile player in the squad on the bench?
Working against Kennedy is the Socceroos tendency to take the easy way out when struggling to build up from the back with the 194cm tall striker in the side. A fact that was most prevalent against Thailand in September (http://www.theroar.com.au/2011/09/08/holger-osieck-and-the-cahill-conundrum/).
While it remains to be seen whether Kennedy has the ability to perform consistently against the highest level of opposition international football can provide, the Wodonga born striker couldn’t have done much more to earn his place in Osieck’s starting XI throughout the opening stages of World Cup qualifying.
Yet, if the man Australian fans like to call “Jesus” is to become the Socceroos’ saviour, than both he and his long-ball susceptible team-mates will need to keep answering their critics.
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