It was November 4, 2000, and Leeds United were playing Liverpool at Elland Road. In a high scoring game that ended 4-3 in favour of Leeds, Mark Viduka produced a magnificent display of goal-scoring scoring all four goals for Leeds. This performance is one of the greatest displays of marksmanship in the history of the English Premier League, the famous Australian soccer player going down in Leeds folklore.
Liverpool raced to a two-goal lead within 20 minutes courtesy of goals from Sami Hyppia and Christian Ziege. But they had no idea of what was to come from the Australian. Viduka’s four goals and his overall performance showcased the kind of striker he was.
His first goal came from a defensive error. Viduka showed great awareness to pounce on a loose ball from Christian Ziege to finish past Sander Westerveld. He scored the second goal just before halftime. Viduka headed the ball home after an excellent cross from Gary Kelly. The goal portrayed Viduka’s aerial prowess and his movement inside the box. Viduka’s third goal was a high-class depiction of his on-the-ball abilities in spite of his bulky frame. He collected a ball from Oliver Dacourt, twisted and turned past Patrick Berger to score his third. Just two minutes later, Viduka lobbed past Westerveld as Elland Road erupted in glory.
Mark Viduka was born in Melbourne to Croatian immigrants, who fled Yugoslavia. Mark Viduka is a cousin of Luka Modric, one of the finest players of this generation.
As a kid, Mark Viduka was shy, unassuming and loved to listen to people. His dad Joe Viduka, an ex-footballer, introduced him to football. Mark Viduka used to wait for his father’s return from Croatia to play football with him. He signed his first professional contract with Melbourne Knights, a club with strong Croatian roots, aged 18.
Melbourne Knights and Dinamo Zagreb
Viduka’s two seasons with Knights yielded 47 goals in 53 games. He collected the National Soccer League Golden Boot and John Warren medal for the best player in NSL in both his seasons with the club.
Viduka left Melbourne Knights to join Croatia Zagreb (now called Dinamo Zagreb) in 1995. The move came at a time when Croatia was returning to normalcy after the Yugoslavian war. Viduka was considered the ‘pet’ signing of Croatian president Franco Tudjman, an eccentric and divisive figure in the country. Viduka led Dinamo to three successive league and cup doubles. He felt it was ‘not football’ when he was at the receiving end of boos from Dinamo fans. The Australian played 99 games and scored 55 goals in all competitions for the Croatian side before joining Celtic
Stint in Scotland
Confusion and uncertainty clouded his move to Celtic from Dinamo in December 1998. Firstly, Celtic announced Viduka would be leaving the club citing mental stress as a reason just weeks after he signed for the club. Secondly, Dinamo Zagreb complained that Celtic had not completed their payments. The issues were eventually resolved. Viduka’s time at Celtic is remembered for his fall out with Eric Black, an assistant coach at Celtic at the time. Mark Viduka reportedly threw his boots in the bin and refused to play the second half prompting an argument with Black. Celtic went on to lose the cup game against Inverness.
In his time at the Glasgow based club, Viduka won the Scottish Player of the Year after scoring 27 goals. He ended up scoring 35 goals in 48 appearances for Celtic before joining Leeds United in 2000.
At Leeds, he played with fellow Australian Harry Kewell. Viduka usually partnered Alan Smith, with whom he had a good understanding, and Robbie Keane in a three-pronged attack. The Australian striker managed to score 57 goals in 166 appearances for Leeds United including a hat-trick against Charlton Athletic. The treble remains the last hat-trick scored by a Leeds United player in the English top flight. His four goals in the UEFA Champions League remains the highest of any Australian player till date.
Teeside and Tyneside
Viduka’s final two seasons at Leeds were marred by the club’s financial difficulties. He joined Middlesbrough on a two-year contract after Leeds got relegated. Injuries marred his debut season but he maintained an impressive form whenever he played. In 2006, Middlesbrough went on a dream run in the UEFA Cup, reaching the final where they lost to Sevilla. His second season at Middlesbrough was successful with Viduka scoring 19 goals in all competitions. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, manager Gareth Southgate failed to convince Viduka to stay at the club. Viduka eventually moved to rivals Newcastle United after his contract expired.
Incidentally, Viduka scored his first Newcastle goal against ex-club Middlesbrough. Despite an impressive start to his Newcastle career, Mark Viduka was regularly affected with injuries. He retired prematurely at 32 after two years with the North East club.
Mark Viduka chose to play for Australia in spite of his strong Croatian roots. He captained Australia to their best performance in the FIFA World Cup finals, reaching the Round of 16 stage in the 2006 World Cup. Despite this, his international career did not go as he would have hoped for.
When Mark Rudan, a teammate during his time at Melbourne Knights, asked Viduka about his nationality, “Croatia” was Viduka’s response. Unsurprisingly, the response prompted people to question his commitment to Australia’s cause. His tendency to kiss Melbourne Knights’ badge forced comments from various writers. Australian media asked him to ‘go back to Croatia if he loved it that much’. Controversy surrounded him once again when Australia faced Croatia in the 2006 World Cup group stage. Luckily for Viduka, Australia progressed at the expense of Croatia after a 2-2 draw.
Mark Viduka – the enigma
Mark Viduka was an enigma. He was hard to decipher. The forward had a frame of a marauding bulldog but had a very deft touch.
The Premiership in the early 2000s was a gateway to huge sponsorship deals for players. But Mark Viduka was not a fan of commercials and resisted from involving in it.
“I had plenty of offers to do sponsorships and TV commercials, but it’s just not in me. I would love to get that out of me, but I just don’t feel comfortable with it.”
In a way, Viduka was more Australian than Croatian. He grew up to be a typical Australian. His shy eyes, grin, and casual smile along with his devotion to club and community was more Australian than Croatian. His mentality, tenacity, and character were more Australian than Croatian.
Viduka’s casual demeanour on the pitch appeared lazy at times so did his off the pitch lifestyle. He rarely trained hard, hated going to the gym and loved fast food. He spoke his mind and without any second thoughts. All this, along with his dressing sense, gave him a charming swagger that one would never
“I’m not too fond of England, I just think it’s a bit too quick for me, and I’m sort of a lazy player. I don’t really like running that much. Anywhere in Europe – Germany, France, you know, wherever I can get a good contract.” said Mark Viduka in an interview when asked about his game style
Family and life
He considers his family more important than anything in life. His priorities shifted to his family after the birth of his kids, which made him reflect on life. He loves Melbourne, calls it his ‘home’. He was inducted into the Croatian Soccer Association of Australia hall of fame, perhaps his only association with Croatian national football.
When he announced his move to Zagreb, he met jubilant fans, huge in number, waving the Croatian flags high up in the air. Mark Viduka joined them to chant “Croatia, Croatia, Croatia” before embarking on a remarkable journey in Europe.
Mark Viduka, these days, can be found coaching with Melbourne Knights and taking his dog Tara for a walk. But he remains the same shy, unassuming, outspoken person he was. His popularity with the Croatian community in Australia remains as strong as ever. Viduka, the Croat-Australian, is a wonderful example of community inclusiveness, and immigration into a foreign society.