Socceroos great Harry Kewell has announced he will retire at the end of the A-League season, giving up on his bid to play at a third World Cup in Brazil.
Kewell, 35, has enjoyed a reasonable farewell season with Melbourne Heart, his sixth different professional club, playing 14 matches and scoring two goals after missing a big chunk of the early season with injury.
Kewell is currently out of action after injuring his ribs but plans to play his final match when he captains second-last Melbourne Heart in their final round match against Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park on April 12.
The former Socceroo appeared philosophical about missing out on the World Cup starting in June, accepting he probably wasn't part of coach Ange Postecoglou's plans.
"For the World Cup I can sit back and enjoy it," he said.
"There's obviously going to be questions asked about the World Cup but I haven't been part of the Australian squad for a while.
"For me it was time to step aside and let young players stand up.
"I think they will surprise a lot of people.
"I always said, it was a privilege and honour to play for your country and you've got to be playing at the highest level to do that.
"I had a year out and, yes I played well for the Heart in games I played but I think it's time to pass on and let youngsters step up and be counted for."
Kewell said he would concentrate on his junior academy and putting back into the sport.
"It's been tough," Kewell said of his retirement decision.
"I've talked to a lot of people recently and it's hard because it's the only sport I've ever known.
"I started when I was four and started professionally when I was 17 and had a career of 18 years.
"It's a life I've already lived and now I get a chance to live another one."
Former international teammate Robbie Slater spoke of the “shock and sadness” that greeted the news of Kewell’s retirement.
“I think he’s looked through it and realised he’s not going to make the World Cup squad and he’s decided to end with Melbourne Heart, where he’s made a really good impact,” he told Fox Sports. “When he looks back, to even play after some of the injuries he had showed great character. In his time at Leeds, he was the most naturally gifted player we’ve ever produced.”
Fellow Socceroos teammate Mark Bosnich hailed Kewell as a trailblazer and said he was right to retire now.
“He should look back on his career with great pride. There have been times with injuries where there were some low points but we should focus on the positives, and he was arguably our greatest player,” Bosnich said.
“He won the FA Cup with Liverpool and was the first Australian to win the Champions League. For me, he should look back on his career with great pride and he’s doing the admirable thing by retiring now.”
Many thought Kewell might have come to the end of his journey when he parted ways with Melbourne Victory at the end of the 2011-12 season and subsequently went club-less for almost a whole year.
He briefly revived his career with Qatari club Al-Gharafa in mid-2013, playing three times and scoring once, before ultimately deciding to return to Melbourne and join the city’s second club.
Kewell only sporadically delivered upon his best form in the A-League, showing markedly better form for both Victory and Heart in the second half of the respective seasons.
However, few will forget the highs Kewell reached early in his career, specifically with Leeds United.
Kewell was considered one of the best players in the world at the turn of the century and the jewel in Leeds’ star-studded crown. He then transferred to Liverpool in 2003, spending five years with the Merseyside giants, where he played in the club’s 2005 European Champions League triumph.
He scored 79 goals and made 68 assists from 381 games in all competitions whilst in England before transferring to Turkish giants Galatasaray.
After a turbulent period on Merseyside, Kewell’s star bloomed again in Istanbul, scoring 34 goals in 90 games, winning the fans’ affection over three successful years.
Amid huge media interest, Kewell announced he would be returning to Australia in 2012, with his wife, Sheree, thought to be particularly fond of Melbourne – and crucial in the decision to go against signing for Kewell’s hometown club, Sydney FC.
Kewell’s form on the international stage began with a bang as he scored in both legs of the ill-fated World Cup playoff against Iran in 1997 but was subsequently mired in a myriad of club-versus-country disputers.
However, the attacking left-winger, who would finish his career as a striker or number 10, eventually embraced the Socceroos, forging a distinguished international career with several memorable moments.
Kewell last played for the national team in 2012, chalking up 56 caps. He scored 17 goals, none more famous or important than the goal against Croatia that qualified Australia for the knockout stages of the World Cup in 2006.
The Smithfield-born attacker, who played his junior football with the Smithfield Hotspurs and the Marconi Stallions, was named as Australia’s greatest ever footballer at a gala function in Sydney in 2012.