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11:00 PM UTC Jun 15, 2019
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 By Jason Dasey

Former Liverpool winger Harry Kewell is loving life as Watford U21 coach

After calling time on an 18-year professional playing career, Harry Kewell is taking his first steps as a coach with Watford.

As a player, Harry Kewell strutted his stuff on football's grandest stages, including a UEFA Champions League final and two World Cups. Yet, he is relishing his new life that takes him to less glamorous destinations like Crewe, Coventry and Colchester.

Since July, the former Liverpool and Australia winger has been Watford's U21 coach. But while Watford have just been promoted to the heights of the Premier League, Harry's youngsters play in the Professional Development League 2 South. They opened the season with a 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday on Monday.

"I'm loving it... I'm falling in love with coaching straight away," Kewell told ESPN FC. "It's hard work, you have to get your sessions and tactics right but I'm absolutely enjoying it. It's a chance to work with a Premier League club, manage the U21s and, yes, they can all play."

It's a very different world for the 36-year-old who retired from professional football in April 2014.

After working with junior players through his academy in Australia for a few months, he took his UEFA 'B' and 'A' licenses earlier this year and was surprised by how naturally he took to coaching.

"I did my licenses over the summer in Northern Ireland with people like Francis Jeffers, Shola Ameobi, Robbie Blake," he said. "I wanted to see if I had the fire in the belly and when I did my first assessment the fire was definitely there.

"When I was a player, I didn't think much about being a coach because all I wanted to do is play. But so far I'm really enjoying it."

Kewell retired as a player last year after one season with Melbourne Heart in the A-League.

Watford are back in the Premier League for the first time since the 2006-07 season, with a rejuvenated squad and a seasoned manager in Quique Flores. The former Spain fullback has previously worked at La Liga clubs Atletico Madrid, Valencia and, most recently, Getafe.

The Hornets began the season with an encouraging 2-2 draw with Everton, leading twice in the game at Goodison Park. On Saturday, they play West Bromwich Albion in their first home match at Vicarage Road.

Kewell played at the stadium for Leeds United in a 2-0 victory in the 1999-00 season. His long-time friend Michael Bridges -- who also finished his career in the A-League -- opened the scoring just before halftime, with Kewell grabbing the second after the break.

The goalkeeper that day was Alec Chamberlain who is now a colleague of Kewell's on the Watford coaching staff.

"There's a buzz around the club... there's a good core of players from U18 upwards," Kewell said. "It's a great learning curve for me. The manager [Flores] is confident, yet very open. If you have any questions, he'll explain."

Kewell made his Premier League debut as a 17-year-old, and, by the age of 19, was a regular in a successful Leeds side that played in the Champions League.

After breaking into the Leeds first team as a teenager, Kewell moved to Liverpool in 2003, winning three major trophies despite an ongoing battle with injuries.

"I know what it takes to play at the highest level but every player is different," he said.

"As coach of the U21s, it's not about reminiscing because some of them don't even remember me as a player. It's more about telling them they have to push themselves to the limit to make the first team and that 90 to 95 percent of success in football is down to hard work."

Over the years, Watford's promising young players who became fully-fledged superstars include John Barnes, Luther Blissett, Ashley Young and David James.

When quizzed about his own career, there is a surprising tinge of regret in Kewell's voice, even though he won four major trophies, including the Champions League and FA Cup.

"I enjoyed my career and I played at some great clubs but I didn't do what I could have in my career," he said. "But I'm not the only one who suffered injuries. You can't cry over spilt milk."

His injury curse forced Kewell off after only 23 minutes of Liverpool's 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul and after 48 minutes of the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham in Cardiff.

But after his unfulfilled five seasons at Anfield, 'Harry, the Wizard' Kewell became a cult hero amongst fans during a three-year spell at Galatasaray and he played some of his best football for Australia. In all, he earned 56 caps and scored 17 goals over 16 years before retiring in 2012.

Kewell's Socceroo career stretched 16 years from 1996 to 2012 and saw him play in five World Cup qualifying campaigns.

He was in the crowd in his hometown of Sydney when the Socceroos won their first major football trophy by defeating South Korea 2-1 in January's 2015 AFC Asian Cup final after Tomi Juric set up James Troisi's extra time winner. In the 2011 final, he'd played in the losing Australian side as Japan won in extra time.

"We came close four years earlier in Qatar but probably needed an extra day's rest before the final," he said. "But I was 100 percent proud to see the boys win this time.

"You saw the determination of Juric to get off the ground and put in the cross for Troisi to score and the reaction of Korean defender because he knew that he'd lost them the Cup. Once again, it all came down again to hard work... hard work from Troisi."

For a man who is arguably Australia's most naturally gifted player of all-time, Kewell speaks an awful lot about hard work. So don't expect him to be taking any short cuts when he's putting out the cones for his U21 side at Watford on the cold and wet winter mornings ahead.

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.



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