TWO minutes on the park in the past six months. That’s all we’ve seen of Harry Kewell, the footballer. Harry Kewell the fashionista, however, we’ve seen everywhere. Cover stories in magazines such as Good Weekend, Sport & Style, Emporium, and InStyle. Thousands of words written elsewhere. Front page of both dailies when the Socceroos kicked off their World Cup against Germany. Talk, talk, talk. A compliant, obsequious media lapping it all up.
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One television reporter went one step further. At the end of Kewell’s first round of media interviews last week, he signed off with: ”Don’t worry Harry, we love you.” True story.

And where was our Harry when Germany were systematically, surgically, dissecting the Socceroos? On the bench. Where he was always likely to start the World Cup. No sign of him on the field with the rest of the subs in the warm-up and in the end he didn’t take the field.

In between he was seen warmly embracing a member of the German coaching staff at half-time, and then smiling, chatting to family and friends at the fence after the final whistle. If the catastrophe that unfolded before his eyes upset him, there were no outward signs of distress.

Pim Verbeek gambled on selecting Kewell for this tournament. Right now, the gamble hasn’t paid off. Don’t worry, came the message from the coach throughout the build-up, he’ll be right to play the opening game. He wasn’t. If he can’t even complete a proper warm-up with the other players, how could he have been?

There was always going to be a point where the talk became cheap. More than that, irrelevant. Well that point has arrived. No doubt there will be plenty of headlines over the next few days about King Kewell coming to the rescue. By accident, or design, he seems to embrace the role of saviour. Well this time it’s not about Harry saving Australia. It’s about Harry saving what’s left of his international career.

Guus Hiddink never indulged Kewell, and given his chronic injury list you can’t imagine he would be playing in his second World Cup if the Dutch Master was still in charge. However, the Dutch Apprentice has obliged him at every turn. In return, Verbeek has got one influential performance out of his star man since he took over. Against Iraq, in Brisbane, where he led the line with enthusiasm, energy, and – most of all – courage. Since then, Kewell has basically been a myth.

On Saturday (midnight, AEST), in Rustenburg, he gets the chance to prove he’s got something left to give. At times in his career, Kewell has been a genuine star. And his long, arduous battle to keep his body together remains a tribute to his bravery, and resilience. But he’s never been able to accept his diminished circumstances. Instead, he’s chosen to deflect the scrutiny with hype. Kewell Inc is on the way up. Kewell, football player, is on the way down. And has been for years.

Now there is nowhere left to hide. If he’s got any petrol left in the tank, he’s got to show it, against Ghana. Preferably by starting the game, and finishing it. Preferably by providing a point of difference. Preferably by giving glimpses of the Harry of old. Anything less, and there’s no more excuses. None.

If the Socceroos lose to the Black Stars, they’re out of contention. With a new coach coming on board, there’ll be a broom swept through a squad creaking at the joints. Believe it or not, Kewell is likely to be part of the clean out. A few years ago that was unthinkable. But a few years is a long time in football. ‘Our Harry’ knows that better than anyone.