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Stage is set for Kewell to shine

May 8 2007

by Ian Rush, Liverpool Echo

Harry Kewell in action

HARRY Kewell’s timing could not have been better. To return just before the Champions League final might be the first bit of good luck he’s had since moving to Liverpool.

I know Harry from my spell at Leeds towards the end of my playing career, and I’ve felt so sorry for him as a series of injuries have prevented him establishing himself at Anfield.

He’s taken a lot of stick, some of it very unfair.

Even I’ve joked with a few people his finals per game ratio is probably the highest in football history, but on a serious point it’s no fun facing one setback after another when you’re desperate to be on the pitch, showing what you can do.

No-one likes to be injured on cup final day. It’s your worst nightmare as a player to go through all the build-up, only to break down just a few minutes into the match.

For it to happen twice in two years is bound to make you the butt of jokes, but it deserves more sympathy than criticism, and the fact Harry has been out all season until this point shows how serious the problems have been.

His recovery may be too late to force his way into Rafa Benitez’ squad for the European Cup final. It may even be too late to prevent him moving on this summer.

What I do know for a fact is this: Harry Kewell is still the best left midfielder at Anfield.

In the last eight months plenty of players have had an opportunity to stake their claim. None have done so.

Fulham on Saturday was another opportunity for someone to give the manager food for thought.

But since the opening day of the season, no-one has been able to claim a regular spot.

If Fabio Aurelio or Luis Garcia were fit, Benitez would probably have an easier decision to make in Athens. As it is, I’d be surprised if he’s made his mind up yet about what to do on the left of midfield against AC Milan.

Many were shocked he used Bolo Zenden in both legs against Chelsea, but when you look at his options, what else could he do?

That’s why, unbelievable as it may sound, I think Kewell has a genuine chance of being involved on May 23.

He’s looking trim, he’s hopefully feeling fitter than ever, and if he can show the class I know he has, he could yet write one of those fairytale stories you always seem to get in cup finals. How better to banish the sore memories of his last two appearances?

There are a few who may question if he deserves the chance in such a big game.

I’d say that’s a load of rubbish.

If he’s fit, he feels sharp and he’s mentally ready to play, of course he’s worth a place, at least on the bench.

Liverpool have been paying his wages for a whole season, and if the reward for that is just one great game in Athens which contributes to winning the European Cup, they may say it was worth it.

Benitez is shrewd enough to recognise he must use all the best options at his disposal. He did the same with Djibril Cisse in Istanbul, you’ll remember, because he needed a player with his pace on the bench, even though he’d only just recovered from a broken leg.

I suspect Benitez will want to see Kewell play against Charlton on Sunday, just to see if he’s in the right condition to step up a level.

No matter how many problems he’s had, I know if he’s anywhere near good form, I’d feel a lot more confident with him on the left than some others who might be under consideration.

In 2005, the European Cup final included many examples of Liverpool players like Smicer putting disappointments behind them to end their Anfield career in triumph. Harry may be someone who can take inspiration from those events.

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