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Football news, Harry Kewell sacked by Oldham Athletic, A-League, Melbourne Victory coach, update



Socceroos great Harry Kewell declared he has ‘no regrets’ about his managerial stint at Oldham Athletic, despite his unceremonious axing by the League Two club.

The Australian manager has now arrived at a career crossroads, on the back of three ordinary spells in the ruthless cut and thrust of England’s lower tiers.

Despite his status as one of Australia’s most famous footballing exports, Kewell’s managerial career has got off to a rough start – though he faced significant challenges in the trio of clubs he has overseen so far.

Now, he faces a ‘million-dollar question’ over his future.

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Oldham Athletic is a former Premier League club. But to call the Latics fallen giants is far from the truth. It is more accurate to say they enjoyed a brief, dizzying spell in the 90s, but are far more suited to the grind of the lower tiers.

Since being bought by Moroccan Abdallah Lemsagam in January 2018, the club has churned through managers like a butter factory. Kewell is the seventh coach to be axed in that time – the eighth, if you include England’s Pete Wild being sacked twice.

The trigger-happy owner only worsened a consistency problem that had plagued the club since early 2015. Since then, no coach has kept his job for even a year. Kewell’s sacking is an impressively expeditious 15th managerial swap in six years.

Oldham became known as a poisoned chalice.

Manchester United legend Paul Scholes lasted just 31 days and 7 matches in charge. He resigned amid rumours the club hierarchy – and particularly its sporting director – were interfering heavily with transfer decisions and even team selections.

The sporting director has overseen years of woeful recruitment and equally disappointing on-field performances – and yet has outlasted manager after manager. Mohamed Lemsagam is, however, the brother of the club’s owner.

This was the tricky environment into which Kewell walked. Seven months later, he is out the door again, the side struggling in 16th in League Two and 12 points from a playoff berth.

While there were bright spots, particularly a run of wins in November, he failed to bring the kind of consistency the club desperately needed.

The 42-year-old Australian was beset by the same problems as his predecessors – a lack of control over signings and team selection, as well as a broader lack of funds. Those problems were most clearly on show in the case of veteran central defender David Wheater, the club’s captain in 2019/20.

Wheater, a Premier League centurion, has not appeared this season following a contract dispute with the club hierarchy over COVID-19 pay cuts. It led to the club releasing a remarkable public statement in November claiming their legal matters with the player had been resolved, but he had injured himself ‘lifting his dog’. The truth of that soon came into question when Kewell in January stated: “As far as I’m aware with David Wheater it’s in the hands of the club … I take the instructions off the club.”

Being unable to deploy the club’s most renowned defender certainly damaged Kewell’s chances – and played a key role in the team conceding a league-worst 56 goals.

But the Australian still managed to implement an exciting attacking approach that saw them score 49 goals from 32 games – a record only bested by one other side in the league.

And the lack of fans in the stands due to the COVID-19 pandemic also dented his hopes. The Latics struggled woefully at home, losing 11 of 15 games.

And so Kewell was sacked without a full season to shape the squad in his image.

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Bolton Wanderers coach Ian Evatt, who faced Oldham last week, declared it a ‘crazy decision’.

“I feel for Harry,” Evatt told the Manchester Evening News. “I spoke to him before the game, he said next season will be so much better because we’ll know who’s fit for purpose, who isn’t, who can we recruit and improve the squad and team, and he’s not had that chance.”

“It seems a crazy, crazy decision,” he added.

Kewell, for his part, says he has no regrets. He tweeted: “I knew coming into this job that I wouldn’t have a budget to work with and that time wouldn’t be on my side but I leave without any regrets.”

So what next for the Australian? His prospects in the lower tiers of English football remain reasonable. His box-office style of attacking football would certainly appeal to some owners, particularly when fans are allowed in the stands. His fame as a player doesn’t hurt either.

However, it must be said that being an Australian manager in Europe is a particularly difficult challenge. Few get the opportunity, and fewer still succeed. Kewell is the third former Socceroo to be dumped by European sides in four months, after Tony Popovic (Xanthi, Greece) and Kevin Muscat (Sint-Truidin, Belgium).

But for Kewell, settled in England’s north with his wife and four children, it appears that waiting for another opportunity – however long that may take – would be the likeliest option.

But there are alternatives – most interestingly being in Australia.

Kewell represented both Melbourne Victory then Melbourne City (at the time known as Melbourne Heart) before his retirement in 2014. While cashed-up City has climbed up the ranks of the A-League, Victory has gone from heavyweights to a club in crisis.

Fans protested at training this week following a record 6-0 defeat to City, brandishing a banner reading: “A line has been crossed.”

Grant Brebner, the inexperienced coach and former player who had to be convinced to take the full-time manager’s position, is on the brink of losing his job.

The club is dead-last, with two wins from 10 games – on the back of a record-low second-bottom finish last season.

Kewell’s name will certainly come up in discussions over the club’s future.

His appointment would make sense for a number of reasons.

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Kewell has plenty of experience with young squads – from his first job as a manager of Watford’s U-23 squad, to his youthful Oldham side this season – he has proven himself capable of developing talented youngsters.

He plays an attacking brand of football, which would at least give Victory’s large fanbase something positive to talk about in the midst of a horror slump.

And he brings the sort of star power and broader recognition that Victory – and the A-League – could certainly benefit from.

Kewell was last year asked if he would someday return down under.

“It depends if someone ever talks to you,” he told News Corp. “I think that’s the million dollar question, everyone always talks about me coming back there and all that but nothing has ever been said.

“I love it over here.”

Kewell may not be the best option for Victory. Popovic and Muscat have exceptional A-League coaching records. Muscat has a much deeper knowledge of the club, and a strong relationship with its fans. There are plenty of other veteran coaches with more experience than Kewell.

But Victory represents the kind of challenge that Kewell has so far relished through his career. His first senior manager position was Crawley Town, also in League Two. They struggled with one of the smallest budgets in the league and were tipped for relegation, only for Kewell to take them to within two points of the promotion playoff zone. A late-season slump saw Crawley finish 14th – the club’s best result for three years.

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Early the next season, he was poached by rivals Notts County – an even more demanding challenge.

County, the world’s oldest football club (with a black and white striped jersey that inspired Juventus!) had a significant budget and were expected to challenge for promotion. For Kewell, it was an opportunity to take over a club with history and restore them to former glories.

He took over with the team in last place, but managed just 14 games over 72 days before being sacked. He had improved Notts’ to third last at the time of his axing, and they would collapse to relegation by the end of the season.

Then he took on Oldham, one of the toughest asks in English football. “I’m excited about the project and, don’t get me wrong, it’s going to take time,” Kewell told the Oldham club website when he took the job. His deal was only for one year, but he didn’t even last that long.

In Australia, at least, the absence of relegation – and his high profile – would likely ensure Kewell would be granted the time to develop a squad in his image.

He has taken on tough projects before. Victory might just be his next.

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