THERE are not many players that evoke the emotions of Leeds United fans quite like Harry Kewell.
A mecurial talent who many supporters regarded at the time as one of the finest talents to wear the famous White shirt.
But 15 years ago this week, the Australian left Leeds for Liverpool under a cloud, with his relationship with most supporters broken beyond repair.
A tweet sent out by this reporter to garner fans’ opinion on Kewell last week attracted several hundred comments, showcasing a full spectrum of opinions ranging from complimentary vignettes to four-letter tirades.
There were stories of charity efforts and hospital visits, but the overriding feeling is that Kewell, for a myriad of reasons, is not a name spoken of fondly in the city and among the fanbase.
It is fair to say Kewell’s handling of that transfer to Liverpool was ill-advised at best, with the talented midfielder reportedly refusing all other offers, apart from the Reds’.
Separating the player from decisions he made later in his career is not an option for so many.Harry Kewell
In addition, then United chairman Prof John McKenzie said Kewell had only agreed to move to Anfield on his terms or threatened to stay at Leeds and leave the following summer on a Bosman free.
McKenzie said at the time: “Last Friday I agreed a deal of £7m with Liverpool, which Kewell and his agent refused to countenance,” McKenzie said.
“Instead, they made a condition of not doing a Bosman that we pay £2m to Kewell’s representatives, and Liverpool then reduced the fee to £5 million. What happened to the remaining £2 million, only Liverpool or Harry Kewell could tell you.”
With United in the middle of their financial meltdown, many felt Kewell could have assisted the plight of the club who made him, by giving up the money.
But if some fans were willing to forgive Kewell for his Anfield antics, that goodwill evaporated when he made his next move to Turkish club Galatasaray in 2008.
It was seen by many as the ultimate two-fingured salute to Leeds United Football Club and its fans, a decision that many felt disrespected the memories of Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus, two fans that were tragically stabbed and killed by supporters of Galatasaray in 2000.
That Kewell had played during the UEFA Cup semi-final during which the Turkish club’s supporters hijacked the minute’s silence and their players refused to wear black armbands, made it all the more galling.
That the player not only signed for Galatasary, but that he took the number 19 shirt that he had so famously worn during his time at Elland Road, left a sour taste.
In an open letter to Leeds fans in the days following his move, Kewell wrote: “I chose the No 19 shirt when I signed for Galatasaray SK as a sign of respect for Leeds because that was the number I got when I first became a regular member of the Leeds United starting XI.
“I felt that it might be a way to demonstrate that I had not forgotten where it all started and I was hoping that in a small way it would help the healing process of the tragedy that occurred on 5 April, 2000.”
Most fractious was his assertion that: “to blame the Galatasaray club for the tragedy in Istanbul is simply wrong and discriminatory.”
All of this, of course, is forgetting what an incredible player Kewell was for Leeds.
Brought through the academy and winning the FA Youth Cup in 1997, he burst into the Premier League with a style and swagger that would lead to 181 first team appearances.
From rebonas and step-overs to iconic goals against Aston Villa, Arsenal and Grasshoppers Zurich, the left-footer had a pace and flair not seen at the club for years.He had an infectious ability to make things happen, playing a starring role in a side that took the club to the top table of European football.
His is a name you whisper quietly in Leeds, however. Separating the player from decisions he made later in his career is not an option for so many.