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Kewell stronger for the tough times

AAP logoAAP 9/12/2016 Ben McKay

For Harry Kewell, a rare bit of reflection has unearthed just how tough a road there is to acceptance.

Acceptance that for all you've achieved, there could have been more.

Acceptance that not everyone likes you.

And acceptance that there'll be plenty of tough days to come, given his stated desire to progress from his current role as under 21 coach for Watford to mentor at the highest level in Europe.

But acceptance is where Kewell, 38, has landed at long last.

It wasn't always so for the man voted Australia's greatest ever Socceroo, who had a tumultuous relationship with fans and media over the course of a glittering two-decade long career.

His move into coaching seems to have mellowed the European Champions League and FA Cup winner, who has spent the week being feted for his achievements.

Kewell insists he's not one ordinarily to look back.

But it's hard to avoid when you've received one of the greatest prizes your sport can offer.

In Melbourne on Tuesday, Kewell became the seventh player to be awarded the Alex Tobin Medal, presented by Professional Footballers Australia for an outstanding overall contribution to the game.

The list of recipients - the late Johnny Warren, Joe Marston, Craig Johnston, Mark Viduka, Frank Farina and Mark Schwarzer - shows the elite company that Kewell has joined.

Kewell said reminiscing over his career could be painful.

"I'm a believer that you've got to enjoy the good times because there are not that many in life," he said.

"The bad stuff - especially now - helps me get through when I am having bad days. I remember I have been in worse conditions and I've survived."

There's no prizes for guessing that it's Kewell's various injuries that bring him the most pain to recall.

Ankle, hamstring, abductor, adductor, concussion, neck, toe, knee, thigh, and back issues all brought lengthy lay-offs across 18 professional seasons.

And then there's the infamous but implausible diagnosis of gout - later changed to a form of arthritis in his ankle - that prematurely ended his 2006 World Cup.

Missing big occasions brought criticism and abuse and contributed to a downward spiral that at times brought him to tears.

"The bottom of the world is when you're sitting on the end of the bed crying, and you're going 'am I ever going to play again?'," he said.

"You're sitting there going 'what's wrong with me'?

"Every time I'm kicking, I'm ripping a muscle. Every time I'm turning, I'm breaking down.

"I get back. I work hard for four weeks and I break down again.

"The pressure of people that keep going 'what's wrong' with me. It's not like the world's ending - but it's your career."

Kewell nominated his five injury-plagued seasons at Liverpool as the toughest stretch, and the European Champions League final as the worst moment.

"I've had 14 operations and the majority were at Liverpool," he said.

"It was a nightmare. An absolute nightmare.

"You'd have an operation and you think 'that's it, that's finished now'. I'm going to be brand new again.

"It doesn't happen.

"An injury is like a jigsaw puzzle. You fix one area and something else goes."

Kewell was substituted 23 minutes into the Champions League decider, eventually won on penalties after a comeback from 3-0 down against AC Milan.

"I put it all in to be at the highest level possible ... as an Australian player the European Cup final is the biggest level you can ever reach," he said.

"I got to achieve that only for it to come crashing down.

"You just want to fight, you just want to be there for your team and get their backs. But my groin snapped."

So why is Kewell happy to talk candidly about his darkest days now, two years after he called time on his career?

"This is probably going to sound stupid. But you probably don't want to show weakness," he confesses.

"I've accepted it. It's hard to accept when you're playing.

"There's a lot of players out there going through the same kind of problems. Top quality players.

"People are hammering them and I'm going 'it's not actually him, you don't want to be injured but sometimes you can't get out of that cycle'."

While Kewell seems to have accepted his lot, he's also recognising the guiding forces in his career.

And there's one he keeps returning to: his family.

"When things like that break you, you've got to find something inside you to get back."

"I've got a strong family behind me. My wife's very strong. She got me through it.

"My kids are a big part too. People talk about winning premierships, they're my four titles there."

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