Harry Kewell accepts Watford Under-21s’ poor form this season will see his coaching ability questioned, but he believes the Hornets youngsters will benefit from what has been a difficult campaign.
The former Leeds United and Liverpool winger was brought into the club last July to oversee the development of players in the club’s newly formed under-21s side. It was a surprise appointment and Kewell’s first professional coaching role since retiring in March 2014.
Kewell said when presented to the press in August that his role with Watford would give him an opportunity to “discover what I want to be”. Nine months on and that question hasn’t been answered – unless you count being frustrated with performances and results.
The under-21s played 31 games in all competitions and won just five. Their final match, against Birmingham City last night, ended in a 2-0 defeat, their ninth in their last 15 games.
“It’s been tough,” Kewell said when he spoke to WD Sport after the under-21s’ penultimate home game of the season. “And it’s been a learning curve. But if it was easy everyone would do it. I know there will be questions thrown around about what I do, but personally I have loved it.
“I prefer a challenge. These boys have talent, don’t doubt that, and it’s been a learning curve for them too. Next year they’ll realise under-21s football isn’t as easy as perhaps they thought it might be. They can’t go out there and play tippy-tappy stuff. They have to work hard.”
Kewell has enjoyed coaching Watford’s young players and passing on advice he gained during a playing career in which he won the Champions League and FA Cup with Liverpool.
What he hasn’t enjoyed, not one bit, is losing games. Kewell detests being second best. Anyone who has attended an under-21s game this season will tell you that if Watford are losing, then Kewell will be livid on the touchline.
“I am a winner and it doesn’t matter what I play and who I am up against,” Kewell said. “Ask my kids, I win against them. That’s the way a top level footballer is. We are born winners.”
Watford’s academy staff will conduct their own end-of-season review and the exceptional performance of under-18s side will held up as the standard. Several of the under-18s have played under Kewell this season due to a lack of numbers at under-21s level. First-year scholars David Sesay and Ashley Charles featured regularly despite only being 16. Charlie Rowan, the captain, came on as a sub last night. When Cardiff City visited London Colney, the four members of their defence were aged 20 or over. It’s been a big gap to bridge.
“It is difficult at times because we keep chopping and changing,” Kewell said. “But for me the bigger they are the harder they fall. That’s the mentality I have and it’s sometimes different to other people’s. There are challenges at this level so the guys have to think, ‘right, I am not going to win many headers against these guys but can they run?’ So you run them behind and down the line. You test them in other ways. It’s about creating thinking footballers.
“I like to see hunger in players’ eyes to know they want it. The under-18s have five or six players who have that hunger. So it will be interesting to see how they do over the next year.”