JOSH KENNEDY: ‘Jesus’ perfect man for bench

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WHEN he first burst on to the Socceroo scene as a gangling, little-known 23-year-old at the 2006 World Cup, the most noticeable thing about Josh Kennedy was — height aside — his long hair and straggly beard.

He looked like a throwback to the peace and love days, all flowing locks and facial hair.

Fans were quick to nickname Kennedy “Jesus”.

Religious connection aside, over eight years Kennedy has often popped up to be his country’s saviour with timely goals.

Never was that more the case than when a (at the time) relatively short-haired Kennedy came off the bench late in the World Cup qualifier against Iraq in Sydney last winter to head the winner that pointed the Socceroos towards Brazil.

As he joined his teammates for a walk along Vitoria’s beach next to the team’s hotel yesterday, it was apparent the long-haired look that had inspired so many “Jesus” T-shirts in 2006 and 2010 was back and, with it, Kennedy’s desire to not just make the final the 23-man World Cup squad, but to make an impact.

He said he had not shorn his locks since that game against Iraq, but the reason is more prosaic than superstitious.

There’s no vow not to cut his hair until he next plays in the World Cup.

His hair is down to the fact his hairdresser botched the last cut, and he is growing it out.

“I got a really bad haircut from my Japanese hairdresser and I said I wouldn’t go back to her,” he said with a smile.

“I just thought, the World Cup, I will let it go and see how it comes back.”

Matters of grooming aside, Kennedy is a reassuring figure.

Although celebrated far less than Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill he, too, will be appearing at his third World Cup and now, at 31, qualifies as a veteran.

The time has flown.

When he first appeared in Guus Hiddink’s group in camp in Holland, making his first appearance in a warm-up game against a club team, little was known about him save that he had played in Germany for a few years having joined Wolfsburg from the defunct Carlton in the old NSL, where he had come to the fore as a teenager.

"We are slowly getting it into our heads that on the day, if we rise up to the challenge and do the things that Ange is trying to do with us, there’s no reason why we can’t cause some problems and make an upset." - JOSH KENNEDY

Mark Viduka, Australia’s captain, got his first glimpse of Kennedy in that match and, when asked after what he thought of the newcomer, smiled slyly and said, “good touch for a big man”.

It is, however, with his head that Kennedy’s reputation has been made.

The Nagoya Grampus frontman can cause consternation for any defence with his height, and while he is not likely to be a first-choice player in coach Ange Postecoglou’s preferred line-up, he still has plenty to offer as a weapon off the bench.

This third World Cup offers him a variation on the tired old travel regimen that footballers usually get so fed up with.

His first World Cup saw he and his teammates holed up in something akin to a castle in the Black Forest.

His second brought a change of scenery, with the team packed away in a rural setting in hunting-style lodges.

Now there is a distinctly Australian vibe to the Socceroos’ beachside base.

“It’s completely different to South Africa,” he said.

“We were in those lodges out in the bush with animals roaming around, and here we have sand and beach views.

“Brazil is known for beaches so it’s good to come here.”

Kennedy has played under numerous coaches — Hiddink, Graham Arnold, Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck — but is impressed with the way Postecoglou has gone about his business since late last year.

“Ange has stamped his flair on things, the way he wants to train, play, have the camp,” Kennedy said.

“We didn’t have that with Pim and everything with Guus for me was quite new.

“Ange has brought in new players who haven’t been in camp before. The motivation is high.”

Kennedy said the squad had a high regard for the coach and his lessons, particularly their ability to throw a spanner in the works of the more favoured teams.

“We have got expectations of ourselves first,” he said.

“We don’t want to come here and not give it our best.

“We are slowly getting it into our heads that on the day, if we rise up to the challenge and do the things Ange is trying to do with us, there’s no reason why we can’t cause some problems and make an upset.

“That’s the belief everyone is starting to get into them.”

Postecoglou has worked with some of the squad extensively in the past, and while that helps some pick up on his messages, there is still plenty of work to be done for the whole squad to be versed in his tactical approach.

“It can be hard if the players aren’t switched on and want to take the things that Ange says on board,” he said.

“We tried our best for the game in Sydney — we will slowly get that into us.

“We have two weeks to get it under control and play the way we want to.”

Much has been made of the punishing training program Postecoglou has put in place, with comparisons being made to the Hiddink approach, when he worked his charges relentlessly during the lead-up to Germany 2006 to ensure they were among the fittest teams in the competition.

“It’s kind of like that Guus definitely didn’t muck around.

“From my point of view, it was understandable that we got a bit tired against South Africa on Monday night in Sydney.

“The intensity was high and people are vying for positions in the squad.”

Kennedy is beginning to be linked with moves back to his homeland and the A-League, admitting he had never imagined he would still be in Japan five years after moving there.

His latest deal expires at Christmas.

“We will take it one step at a time. After the World Cup I am going back to Japan,” he said.

“I hadn’t really thought about the A-League much until a couple of months ago.

“We will see what happens.”

The Socceroos’ Border-raised bench weapon is keeping a calm head, writes Michael Lynch.

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