THOSE in Australian football who claim to have discovered, trained and developed Harry Kewell are vast.
Numerous coaches, scouts and mentors have tall tales of their involvement in the blossoming of Australia's favourite footballing son. The truth is Harry has picked few shoulders to lean on in his rise to the top, but the ones he has chosen have proved vital.
Ultimately it is Harry Kewell whose hard work and determination shaped his destiny but without the guidance of certain individuals along the way, who knows how different his career might have turned out.
From his first coach to his trusted agent and confidante and from his Leeds youth coach to the physio who saved his body from the brink of collapse, there have been some significant figures in the moulding of a Socceroo legend. FourFourTwo meets the men who made Harry Kewell...
Harry's trusted manager has advised him for over a decade
A misunderstood figure in many circles, Bernie Mandic is seen by some as a stereotype for slick agents greasing their palms with the misguided talent at their disposal. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Mandic's relationship with Harry Kewell.
The stem of Mandic's false reputation comes from Harry's 2003 transfer from Leeds to Liverpool where it was alleged that Mandic received £2m of the £5m transfer fee. That is an unconfirmed figure, but the British press chastised Mandic for engineering the move to swell his own bank account.
Mandic has been Harry's agent since 1998 when Harry was due to renegotiate his Leeds United contract. And despite a watertight and ongoing relationship between the two of them, no formal agreement has ever been signed.
"We formalised everything via a handshake and said 'that's it, no-one else'", Mandic tells FourFourTwo. "There were a few fly-by-nighters that were coming to Harry's Dad and making a few promises. However Harry has always been a guy with simple expectations and he used to say even as a 17-18 year old, 'I'm going to let my boots do the talking'. He loves football for loving football. A lot of people love football to get their dream girl or dream car and get their status in life, but for Harry it was just football. His ruthless approach to being a pro separated him."
Mandic was coaching at Sydney Olympic when he first crossed paths with Harry. At the time Harry was playing for Marconi under 13s, still aged only 11.
"My mate Frank Arok, who was then the national team coach, alerted me to Harry and a few of the other stars there like Brett Emerton and Paul Reid. When we played Marconi, Paul Reid was the best out of all of them. I made the point on how good Reid was and Arok said, 'No, no, no - that little bastard over there' pointing at Harry."
It was not until 1998 that the relationship between Harry and Mandic became more formalised. "My involvement with Harry didn't start until he renegotiated his initial contract [with Leeds]. Even though Harry was contracted to Leeds, the sort of money that would have been on offer as a transfer fee to Leeds would have been massive and difficult
to resist. At one point when Harry had just turned 20, Inter Milan were prepared to pay £25million," says Mandic.
Harry's Leeds career continued until 2003, when aided by Mandic, he targeted a high profile transfer at the end of his Leeds deal.
"My advice was that you have to do what your heart tells you to do. Harry said, 'What do you think is fair, what should we ask for?'
"So we went through everything, picked some numbers. AC Milan and Liverpool were his two favourite boyhood clubs. So he said he would like to go to one of those clubs, preferably Liverpool. However, these are the parameters and whoever meets those first, we have got a deal."
Before inking a deal with Liverpool, a host of top European clubs launched bids to land Harry's services in 2003. "Liverpool was the second worst offer," explained Mandic. "The best was naturally Chelsea and that was about 30 percent above what Liverpool were willing to pay. Then it was Man United and Barcelona equal second, then AC Milan, before Liverpool and Arsenal had the worst offer. All great clubs, all great managers and Harry could have gone to any of them."
Mandic says the Liverpool deal was in the pipeline for several months before Harry's contract expired with Leeds. "When Liverpool realised Harry was interested they were the first to say 'Okay, we agree to those terms and conditions'. The other clubs played their media games and said, 'Yes we are interested in Harry' or 'No we're not interested or he's asking for too much money'. When they realised we weren't playing the media game, they came back with better offers."
The day of Harry's medical at Liverpool, Mandic received a call from Man United who stated, 'Whatever it takes we will do the deal, right now'".
"In the end Man United would have trumped everybody because they could [money-wise], but their back-up player was a great choice - Ronaldo. It was Ronaldo or Kewell. The way things have turned out Ronaldo has done extremely well."
Mandic conceded that Harry's Liverpool career "didn't turn out how we wanted it", but as his agent and close personal friend he was on hand to provide the help and support Harry needed at the time of his injury-plagued Liverpool stint.
"I always say to my players you can go from a rooster to a feather duster in a few matches and that is what happened to Harry. Injury after injury, problem after problem. I ran out of advice for him. You just sit there and shake your head in utter disbelief that a player of that quality and professionalism is slaughtered emotionally, physically and in the media. To Harry's credit, he always said he had a great support team around him, but I don't care who the player was and I've met a few players, no-one could have gone through what Harry went through and come out the other end like he has at Galatasaray.
"In terms of attitude, Harry is phenomenal. If Harry had gone into anything in life, if it had been a rocket scientist or fighter pilot, he would have succeeded. There is no option not to succeed with him. Hard work or pain has never stopped him. He has had his dark times, but came out the other end a better player and human being."
Mandic also lauded the ease and relaxed nature of working with Harry. "I hope that I have made Harry's life more pleasant as a player, a father and a husband to do the sort of things that are sometimes hard to do as a professional footballer. If it is a case of how many zeros are in his contract, when you have a player like Harry, his grandmother could have done his contracts. For Harry it had never been about the money, it has always been about doing the sort of things that are important to him. I'm there to give him an honest view.
"Harry is one of the easiest blokes in the world to look after. It's a case of talking to each other as two mates who can talk honestly and frankly about anything. Our relationship doesn't start and end at any particular point. It is more of a friendship than it is a business relationship. There is no political correctness and there is no walking on egg shells. He says it how he thinks and I say it how I think. If we disagree, we disagree. That is how the relationship works and it's not going to change and hopefully it can go on a lot longer, beyond football."
Mandic speaks about Harry with the affection of a father figure. If you asked Harry if Mandic was worth the amount he received in the Liverpool transfer, you can be assured that Harry would maintain he is worth every cent.
Continued on next page...