Kewell: Glad to be playing again

He has taken part in four separate FIFA World Cup™ campaigns, he has carved out a distinguished career in England with Leeds United and Liverpool, and he is an icon in his native country. FIFA.com caught up with Australia's star forward Harry Kewell after Australia had sealed qualification for the final stage of Asian qualifying for South Africa 2010, and shortly before his high-profile move to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

FIFA.com: This has been the first time you've played in an Asian FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. What has been the biggest novelty for you?
Harry Kewell: It's exciting. Obviously, I've played overseas quite a lot, and the European and South American boys go off for a week here, two weeks there, and it always seems important to them, playing in a World Cup qualifier. The long road to it makes it seem more worthwhile when you make it. And I think maybe that's something that we [Australia] have always missed out on. Thank God we put our hand up and said we wanted to go into Asia, and thank God they accepted us, even though we're a team that might mean one less spot for the rest of them! To start World Cup qualification this far out, to prepare for the World Cup that way, can only be better for us in the long run.

Apart from Australia and Iran, there aren't any Asian sides with the majority of their players earning their living in Europe. How does that affect things, from your perspective?
The other Asian teams always have European coaches, they always have coaches who are familiar with the European style. And some of the teams may not be at the level of European football, but I tell you this, any European team would find it difficult coming to these countries and playing against these teams. No player can train for those conditions [in the Persian Gulf]. You'd have to spend at least three to four weeks out there to prepare properly. But that's another thing that we have to learn to deal with very quickly.

Apart from his Asian experience, what has Pim Verbeek brought to the Australian side?
We've had some great managers come to Australia recently, with Guus [Hiddink] and now Pim. It's great to work under someone who has completely their own plans; no-one can tell him how to do things, how to play, how to use certain players, he just goes ahead with his own ideas, which is fantastic. And he's got a great squad to work with, a young squad, who are strong enough to last the distance in Asia. It's exciting for him as well.

You've played through four different FIFA World Cup campaigns under four different managers. Can you describe the campaigns in a little more detail?
Well, I worked under [Terry] Venables with Leeds as well, and he was a great guy, he was fresh, he was energetic. For us to not make that [1998] World Cup was just about those five minutes of madness (Note: Australia let slip a 2-0 lead against Iran in their playoff second leg in Melbourne, and the eventual 2-2 draw sent Iran to France 1998 on away goals), but maybe it was because we weren't used to shutting up shop, it's not the Australian way. With Frank [Farina] again, we played the first leg of the playoff at home, and we battered [Uruguay], we just couldn't get that second goal. And then we went over there, and to go over to a place like that with only a 1-0 lead was very daunting. And they piled on the pressure, they had nothing to lose. We had our chances at the beginning of the game, though, which just didn't drop for us. We were unlucky.

And then in 2006?
Obviously then there was Guus [Hiddink], who changed a few things, and got us prepared in a different way...physically, tactically, mentally, everything. He was a real breath of fresh air. And his tactics worked: we went over there again, and we made it!

For the national team, you've played on the left wing, on the right wing, just behind the strikers, and as a lone striker as well. Do you have a preference?
As long as I'm playing, it's OK! But in this day and age, you can't be too static, because you just get marked out of the game. You have to float a bit. You have to be able to play off shoulders, to drop in, and I like doing that anyway. I don't like staying too long in one spot.

You've watched the development of the new Australian A-League from afar; would you like to be a part of it one day?
I'm still only 29, and I still feel I can produce some good football at the highest level. So I still feel I've got something to prove in Europe. I would never rule out coming back, the [A-League] competition is certainly making headway, and a lot of players keep asking me how it's going. It's never going to challenge Europe, because everyone will still go over to play in Europe to prove themselves. It's a bit of a Catch-22 at the moment: if we can keep all our young players in Australia, obviously that's great for the local game, but if the young players want to reach their ultimate potential, and play against the best players, they have to go to Europe. At the same time, you don't want players coming [to Australia] when they're 35, 36, and not being able to turn it on anymore. So it's difficult. The young players won't be able to gain the quality they need in Australia...unless we suddenly have about twenty [Roman] Abramoviches popping up here (laughs).

You've won a UEFA Champions League medal with Liverpool, you've scored a vital goal for Australia at the FIFA World Cup...what ambitions do you still have?
I've still got a lot. There are people who say to me "You've got nothing to prove," but there's one or two people that I'd like to prove a few things to, on a personal level. My time at Liverpool was a rollercoaster ride, some good, some bad, but I'd like to move on from that. I just want to play football, and that's been the best thing about these June [FIFA World Cup qualifying] games. This was a period of four or five weeks where I was just around the guys all the time, playing and training, and that was good for me.

What's the best piece of football advice you've ever been given?
That as long as you love your job, it's OK. After all, if you don't love something, then why are you doing it? A lot of kids have asked me "What's the best way to train? What's the best way to do this or that?" and I always say, just enjoy it. Because if you enjoy it, you'll train. If you don't want to be a footballer, then training is the hardest thing.

Do you have any ambitions to coach?
I've said no in the past, because you don't think that far ahead. Now...maybe, but I don't think I could ever be a manager, because I've seen the pressure that you get put under in that job, and it's phenomenal. Maybe a youth coach, or an academy coach, to develop young players. That I think I could handle!