Australian football has been rocked by a heated public feud between Socceroo Harry Kewell and his former international team-mate Robbie Slater, who had told Kewell to retire.
Kewell attacked Slater in a live phone interview on Australian television after Slater, long retired and now a pundit with Foxsports, wrote a column in the Australian press claiming that another Australian player had told Kewell to "f--- off" during the World Cup because the player was allegedly tired of the media hype surrounding Kewell and his injuries overshadowing the rest of the team.
Slater wrote that Kewell's value as a player had long diminished and that the "circus" that follows the pin-up boy of Australian football was detrimental to the Socceroos environment, claiming Kewell should step down and let new players build towards the 2014 World Cup.
Kewell rejected the story about the fellow player and hit out at the "disrespect" shown by Slater in his public criticism of a player he once shared a dressing room with. Despite being based in Turkey with Galatasaray, Kewell found out about the column from the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney and requested a right of reply on television programme Foxsports FC, on which Slater is a regular panelist.
"When I heard about the article and read the article, obviously I was disappointed that an ex-Australian teammate of mine would write something like that when he knows clearly that every time I've been in the Australian squad I've always shut my mouth, done my work and kept myself to myself and done the business on the park," Kewell said.
"When he writes something like a players told me to 'eff off' and saying that I was no value to the Socceroos any more, I find that a little bit harsh. What gives the right to you Robbie, to make that kind of statement without knowing the actual facts?"
A fired up Kewell demanded that Slater reveal which player had told him the story of dressing room unrest, which Slater refused to do, and Kewell took aim at the media for creating the "circus" around him, saying he only spoke to reporters when instructed by team management and therefore couldn't be blamed for the over-the-top coverage.
Kewell only played around 25 minutes at the World Cup after being overlooked for Australia's opening loss against Germany and then being red carded in the second group match against Ghana for a handball on the goal-line. Much of the pre-match discussion before the Germany game had surrounded Kewell's fitness, since the striker had barely seen game time in 2010 due to a groin injury.
Kewell refuted Slater's claims that he had in some way let down Australia, insisting he was fit to play in the match and that it was coahc Pim Verbeek's choice to leave him out. Kewell said he would not retire from international duty, insisting he would remain available until a coach told him he was not required. It's unknown whether new Socceroos boss Holger Osieck has Kewell in his future plans.
It's not the first time Kewell has been frustrated by media criticism in recent times. During the World Cup, senior Australian football journalist Michael Cockerill wrote a column claiming the heightened media interest in Kewell did not reflect the player's poor on-field performances in recent years, sparking Kewell to demand a face-to-face with Cockerill.