Now in his fourth FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, Harry Kewell is arguably Australia's most recognisable footballer. Already with a lengthy CV at club and international level, Kewell saw his name reach stratospheric levels in his homeland after scoring the historic goal that took Australia into the knockout stage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Three years on, Australia are on the cusp of returning to the game's greatest stage, possibly as the first team to secure their ticket to South Africa 2010, and the long-serving Kewell has once again been instrumental.
At club level, after tasting success with Leeds United, Kewell had a mixed time with Liverpool as injury cursed the attacking midfielder across a number of seasons. Now enjoying a new lease on life playing for Galatasaray, Kewell spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about Australia's FIFA World Cup campaign, life in Turkey and the challenges that football can present.
FIFA.com: Australia is potentially one match away from reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Is it fair to say the campaign is going as well as you could have hoped?
Harry Kewell: Results-wise and points-wise, yes. We couldn't have got off to a better start and it puts us in a very strong position to qualify for the World Cup. If you to ask 'is our performance worthy of those results', I would say maybe one or two but not all of them. We haven't always played to the best of our ability but we have worked very hard and defended well. Sometimes that is the way football goes - work hard, defend well and get that vital goal - and that is what we have done in some of the games.
It's certainly very different from previous campaigns for Australia, which invariably came down to the very last day of qualification. As a player, do you have a preference for the longer campaign through Asia, or the drama of a final do-or-die contest?
A lot of people have asked me that question. It is better for us with this format of qualification because we are constantly getting prepared for the World Cup because these are World Cup games effectively. They may not be against the likes of Italy, Spain, Brazil, England and so on, but they is still against very high quality teams who are all fighting to play in the World Cup and that's the perfect scenario for us.
Is the national team settling into a good unit under Pim Verbeek?
It is difficult for a manager to come in and change things around but now Pim has been in control over a year, he is definitely putting his stamp on the team. We know as a group now what he likes and what he wants out of the team so it is working quite well.
On the club side of things, how are you enjoying the football in Turkey, and in a football sense how different is it from the English Premier League?
To be honest, not that much. If you look at technically the way the players play, I would say the majority of my team-mates can easily play in the Premiership; technically they are very good. There are better players that I have seen in Turkey than I have seen in the Premiership. The only thing they lack perhaps is the (self) control that you need to be aware of defending. In Turkey, everyone wants to attack, which is great for the fans but a nightmare for the managers. But overall there is not that much difference: they are strong, quick, physical and they can run.
Away from football, are you enjoying the different cultural aspects of life in Turkey?
Turkey is a very interesting place. If you had asked me two years ago would I be living in Istanbul, I would have said no. But I have to say it has grown on me. I think Istanbul is a fantastic city, probably one of the best cities I have been to and I'm not just saying that because I live there now. But the culture, the people... They are very respectful and have a way with the older people that you just don't see anymore. They have all the food, the nightlife, the clothes, everything that you would want - even the weather.
How are you enjoying Galatasaray's famously passionate supporters?
The level of passion is like nothing I have ever experienced before. The support that we get is fantastic. I don't think any club can come close to what we can produce. If anyone wants to say their fans are better, I would bet money that they are not!
Tell us about the extra level of expectation on the players playing with a club of Galatasaray's statue?
If the team wins the league, people will say you are supposed to win the league. There is no coming second. There is just one place for Galatasaray and that is the number one position. If you don't get that, there is going to be a backlash.
A long way off perhaps but have you thought much about life after Galatasaray, and would you consider a move back home to the A-League?
Again, I get asked that question a lot. I wouldn't like to promise anything, but yes I would. But I wouldn't like to say that I definitely will, or give a 100 per cent guarantee because I don't know what is going to happen. But, yes, I would like to finish my career in Australia of course.
Football has certainly changed a lot since your early days as a young player in Australia. What progression have you seen?
As long as we are consistent and produce a good national team year-in, year-out; that is playing in Asian Cups and playing in World Cups, and always being there or thereabouts. We have the ability to do it because we are very athletic people; we love sports so there is no reason why we can't given the support we are getting. It's the most played sport in Australia, which is certainly a change from when I was younger. You have to start somewhere and we are rolling now.
What are your personal aspirations in the short term?
Hopefully to stay injury-free. Personally, that would be a great achievement for me but things happens in football so you can't worry about that. Just to enjoy my football really. The last four or five years of my career, I have put pressure on myself to try and get back (from injury) a lot quicker and I haven't always been enjoying my football. Now I want to relax to the point where I can just enjoy my football. I want to be able push myself in the right directions so I can play good football. If you are more relaxed and playing with confidence, I think you will see a better player. I think players who play with confidence are players playing at the best level they can.
You have had many challenges in your career. What advice would you give to young players?
As long as you have a strong family support, and also never give up. You will be thrown things in life, not just in football, and you have to deal with them. To really enjoy the good times, you have to go through the bad times. So my advice is to keep your head up, work hard and don't let things bother you.