Exclusive: Harry Kewell opens up about Notts County, Crawley Town, Lee Bowyer, and his next step in managementby Jack Kitson / 24 October 2019, 14:09Tweet
It’s approaching a year since Harry Kewell was controversially sacked by Notts County after only 10 weeks in charge.
The Sack Race caught up with the Australian boss to talk about his short-lived tenure at the club, his first taste of management at Crawley Town, what he’s been up to over the last year, and whether he fancies returning to the dugout anytime soon.
Looking back, what was your reaction to being sacked by Notts County after 14 games?
I do still feel hard done by my departure from Notts County, as any manager would given the circumstances.
I’m still wondering the reasons why I got the sack there. I went into a club who were sitting dead last in League Two, then I got them out of the relegation zone within 10 games, only to then get the sack...I don’t get it.
It still baffles me. Especially when the club paid Crawley Town for me. It’s still a difficult one to take.
I’m still bewildered at what happened. Alan Hardy had sat me down and told me his idea of what he wanted for the club. How he had looked at me for the work I’d done at Crawley, the way my team had been playing and the young players I was giving debuts to, who were then going on to make names for themselves in the league.
He wanted to create this wonderful idea of how he wanted his Notts County to start playing like my Crawley side, which was great news. They are a huge, fantastic club with great supporters in a great area.
Crawley is also a fantastic club who gave me a platform, but I saw Notts County as a wonderful opportunity to sink my teeth into. I had a three-year contract - Hardy actually wanted to give me a five-year contract - but I told him that the most important thing for the club was to survive, then to build.
I remember we’d won three games on then bounce then played Bury, who we ended up losing to as they had a fantastic team. After that I got a sense that something didn’t feel right - football is a small world at times.
Hardy never really said anything but if an owner was sitting in a relegation position, goes out and buys a manager who within 10 games takes the club from being in the relegation zone to out of the relegation zone, only to then go ‘you know what I’m now going to go out and get a new manager now’ - I just don’t get it.
I could understand if I was still sitting there and not making any progress but we were. It was a real shock to me. At the end of the day it was his club, and his way, so what can you do? You can’t argue with it.
You began your own managerial career at Crawley Town in the summer of 2017. How did the job come about, and as a first time manager how did you find the experience?
Crawley Town are owned by a Turkish businessman (Ziya Eren), and there was a link to my time playing in Turkey at Galatasaray.
When I sat down with the owner, the SEO and sporting director they all told me that they wanted to change the club’s style of play. To create a new identity, to bring up the youngsters and be able to give those players the opportunity to start playing in the first team. They wanted to start from the beginning.
I told them that this was fantastic, but it was going to take time. You can’t just ask players to play a certain way straightaway, it takes time and practice. We’re not talking one or two months, it can take up to six months to get the first signs of things working well.
So, I got the opportunity to go there. I had a great pre-season. It was a fantastic club and I remember putting my ideas forward to the players, who were a great group.
I think a lot of people look at League Two and think there’s only one way you can play, which is complete rubbish.
There’s a lot of talented players at this level that still want to learn, that want to go up to that next level, but as a manager it’s about being confident in yourself and delivering your service.
I felt that the first few months at Crawley were tough. The fans were getting frustrated because they were used to a certain style of football, while I wanted to bring the young players through and make my team play out from the back.
There were going to be mistakes but it’s how you learn from them. It was all about the process. It was frustrating because we’d play good football but we weren’t scoring. However, once it clicked it clicked and we got into that momentum of playing well and being confident.
We played some great football that year and I absolutely loved it but by the end of the season when my team actually went long the crowd would get angry! Because they were like ‘no, no, no’ we want to see you play out from the back.
I was very proud of what I did there. I gave both Panutche Camara and Josh Doherty their debuts, and they are now playing week-in and week-out in League Two. It’s fantastic to see.
What have you been up to in the last year?
When I initially stopped working for Notts County I took a couple of weeks out. Then I enjoyed going out to watch matches over the Christmas period, and after that I took in as many matches as I could.
I still work on my programming and analysing side of it because I do all that work myself. I enjoy creating fresh ideas and training programs, finding different ways to counteract different teams at different levels, so I’m keeping myself busy.
I was always a thinking player, and especially with management I always like to make my training and my ideas exciting, but that also comes with a concentration from the players.
I base my training methods and my ideas on how my team is going to play on match day.
I never did quite get why you’d would work on things in training that were not related to football. When you work with certain managers who I’ve worked with, some did this and some didn’t, but the ones that worked on it made you feel more comfortable on a weekend because you’d actually worked on these aspects in training.
If you do take a step back out of management, you can still learn and look at your own ideas and see whether they can be broken down like a virtual game in your head. That’s how you’ve got to look at it until you get the opportunity to make it real life.
Are you looking to get back into management? If so, where?
There’s only a certain amount of jobs available, and there’s so many good coaches out there all fighting for that one opportunity.
But I am looking to get back in - I’ve had a couple of meetings, and it just hasn’t worked out for either side so it’s just waiting for that right opportunity to get back in and start enjoying it again.
For me personally, League Two and League One and also the Conference are fantastic places to learn your trade.
You can really try things and experiment. When you do things right you can see a huge difference, not only in the players but in the way that you’re playing football.
You can also see your mistakes as they get really cut open, so you can kind of fix them whereas if you go straight to the highest level a lot of top players can see straight away where there’s holes or where there’s mistakes. It’s a different ball game.
But from my experience, League Two is a level that I have enjoyed and I think it’s fantastic.
You played under a fair share of high-profile managers...Rafa Benitez, Guus Hiddink and George Graham to name a few. Who was your biggest influence?
I worked under some fantastic managers. You take little bits from them, like the way Rafa Benitez worked his formation patterns, or even when I was at Watford I got to see how Quique Sanchez Flores did it, and that was amazing to me. Things like that you can take little snippets from and turn into your own.
Frank Rijkaard was probably the best manager I worked for.
The way he saw football was at another level to how I saw it. The way he came across, the way he spoke and the way he made things precise to certain players was fantastic.
So I’ve taken little things with me but the majority of the way I want to play the game is my own idea, because I want to bring something different. I always brought something different to football when I played the game so I want to bring something different to the way I coach and manage.
You can say there’s only certain ways to play the game anyway - passing, long ball, short plays, long plays, through balls, all that kind of stuff - but I like to mix it up.
Finally, what do you make of the work of your old Leeds United teammate and current Charlton boss, Lee Bowyer?
When I was at Watford I brought Bow in for a spell and he was fantastic because as a player he was a midfielder that I enjoyed playing with. He was able to do the hard work but play as well, so I brought him in especially to look at my midfield at that time, and he helped me out. I learnt things of him.
I think he’s now doing a fantastic job at Charlton.
They are a huge club and they are exactly where they should be in the league but they’ve had a bit of a bad couple of years and I think it's fantastic how he’s brought stability especially on the park. He deserves everything he gets - hopefully it will continue for him.