Socceroos Greats - Where are they now: Mark Viduka

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The World Game resumes its monthly feature on Socceroos stars who left their mark on Australian football. Striker Mark Viduka shot to worldwide fame after scoring four goals for Leeds against Liverpool in the Premier League and had this to say about that epic performance: "I played better games".

Australia's 2006 FIFA World Cup captain Mark Viduka, the big striker they called the 'V-Bomber', will always be remembered universally for his four-goal demolition job on Liverpool when he was playing for Leeds United.

In his first season in Yorkshire, Viduka stole the show in a Premier League match in November 2000 which Leeds won 4-3.

Viduka's extraordinary achievement boosted his reputation as a prolific predator and instantly made him a marked man in the league and in Europe.

Many fans still regard his dazzling display on a sunny afternoon at Elland Road as the highlight of his club career.

The man himself does not see it that way, however.

"I don't like it when people suggest that was my career highlight... simply because it was not," Viduka said from his family home in Zagreb.

"How do you define 'highlight', anyway? Winning my first league title with Melbourne Knights was a highlight and playing in a Champions League semi-final with Leeds was huge too.

"Okay, I scored four that day but I don't think it was the greatest game I ever played, to be honest. I played better games.

"For me, my best game was when we beat Lazio 1-0 in Rome in the Champions League and I set up Alan Smith with a back-heel. I felt confident, I was taking on players and I was dangerous all night.

"I did not score at the Olimpico but that's how it is in football. Sometimes you have a great game and fail to find the net; on other occasions you have an average game, you get a couple of sniffs and you score twice."

Viduka's four goals against Liverpool made headlines around the world and even provided two women with a special thrill.

"Our manager David O'Leary is a Catholic and his mother, who was watching the game on television, was so excited when I made the sign of the cross after two of the goals I scored that she texted David straight after the match to tell him she was over the moon about me.

"That day was also my mum's birthday and she was the person I was waving and blowing kisses to at the cameras. I knew she was watching."

Viduka, who is now 44, was happy to relive some of the most important moments of his stellar career.

What are you doing now?

"My wife and I have a coffee shop outside Zagreb which Ivana runs while I am getting into real estate. I just have coffees there, that's just about it."

You were raised by a club that has produced several top Socceroos. What do the Melbourne Knights mean to the city's Croatian community?

"When I was growing up in Melbourne times were different. Croatia was just a state in communist Yugoslavia then and Croats were not even allowed to say they were for a free independent nation. The immigrants who went to Australia then set up clubs like Melbourne and Sydney Croatia where they could get together and enjoy football, which is what they all had in common.

"We were all hoping that one day Croatia would be a free country and that is why through football there was so much passion at those clubs."

What made the Knights team that won the league and cup double in 1995 so special?

"We were a young squad and had got close to winning the title a couple of times but in my second-last year coach Mirko Bazic came in and made a lot of changes. It was a gamble in a way but we became a strong group on and off the pitch and it showed in my last season when we won the double. We had a quality team that comprised several Socceroos like Steve Horvat, Joe Spiteri, Tom Pondeljak and Andrew Marth."

You were always destined to end up abroad and when Croatia's first president Franjo Tudjman, on a visit to Australia in 1995, urged you to join Dinamo Zagreb you could not possibly reject him, could you?

"I was a young boy and very inexperienced. The year before I had an offer from Borussia Dortmund. I had a contract and everything and out of the blue and in the last minute Tudjman came into the picture and gave me this big speech about how he wanted me to go to Croatia to play for Dinamo.

"My whole family were excited to take a phone call from Tudjman, who invited us to have lunch with him. It was very difficult to say 'no'."

You helped Dinamo win three championships yet some fans saw you not only as a footballer but also as Tudjman's boy. Were you becoming a political tool?

"To be honest, Tudjman was setting up a new country from scratch and everything he did was designed to promote Croatia abroad. In hindsight, I think the motive behind his attempt to bring me to Croatia was to show those Croats who had left the country for political or economic reasons that it was okay to come back home so they could help build the country.

"Later on when he was getting rather unpopular, things started to affect my relationship with the fans. For example, one day I scored against Hajduk in a league match in Split and the travelling fans started booing me. It was then that I realised that football was turning into something else. I was there to play football and was not interested in politics."

Your big move to Celtic made Britain and Europe take notice of your ability. Was Parkhead a football 'paradise' for you?

"It was. Playing for Celtic was paradise in a footballing sense after what was happening to me during the latter stages of my stay in Zagreb. In Glasgow, I found genuine love for the club where we would get 60,000 fans for all matches, even those cup games against second or third division teams. Celtic's support is unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it."

You probably reached your peak during your four-year stint with Leeds. How big was O'Leary's influence on your career?

"David bought me from Celtic in 2000 for something like six million pounds and I loved playing under him. I had no complaints. He was tough when he needed to be and if you needed an arm around your shoulder, he would be there for you. He became rather unpopular with some of the players later on but I had no such experience with him. He was a great manager and I was very surprised when he got the sack for finishing fifth."

In 2001, Leeds were one match away from the Champions League final but fell to Gaizka Mendieta's Valencia. Were they too strong?

"I think so, in the end. We drew the first leg 0-0 and it became very difficult in the return in Valencia. We faced a big and vocal crowd at the Mestalla and, mind you, they had a top quality side too. We lost 3-0. At times you have to acknowledge you are second best... the result said it all."

For a period you and Harry Kewell were among the deadliest strikers in Europe ... different characters, different players but always on the same wavelength.

"Definitely. I loved playing with Harry. We trained and played together for a long time and we had a really good understanding. He is one of the greatest players I have played with. He is top class."

Your transfer from Leeds to Middlesbrough in 2004 left a bad taste among some fans who might have expected you to stick around.

"I don't think so. Let me tell you something. In my football life, whenever I left a club - except for Melbourne Knights - there was always a bad feeling. I was league top scorer and players' player of the year at Celtic and when I left ... bad taste. When Henrik Larsson left Celtic and returned there with Barcelona, he was booed. And he was a legend. What does that tell you? Fans are attached to their club and usually don't like players leaving. I understand that."

The Socceroos' World Cup playoffs with Uruguay in 2001 and 2005 provided us all with wildly contrasting emotions. How did you see the two ties from the thick of the action?

"The thing is - up until we got into Asia in 2006 - we used to play easy matches in Oceania and had to perform in two matches against some South American team that would have gone through a whole series of tough qualifiers in their region. This gave the South Americans a massive advantage, as if they were not already strong enough in their own right.

"The two ties had different scenarios and were both very close. I think the second time around under Guus Hiddink we were better organised, especially in defence. Sometimes it's the little details or a bit of luck that can get you over the line. When we got through via a shootout in Sydney in 2005, the tie could have gone either way."

What went through your mind when you missed your penalty in the tense shootout with so much on the line?

"At that moment I was devastated but Mark Schwarzer saved us with two great stops. That miss cost me a few beers and coffees."

You would have felt very proud and privileged to lead Australia in their first World Cup in 32 years in 2006.

"I was very proud of course and, having grown up with many of my teammates, I was happy for our generation to be able to get a chance to play in the World Cup."

Was the Italy game in Kaiserslautern a missed opportunity? Should the Socceroos have had a real go at them?

"It's difficult to say. I thought Italy played really well that day and they went on to win the World Cup after getting through some big games. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and, as they say, everybody is a general after the battle. At the time I thought Hiddink would bring on John Aloisi earlier when the Italians had Marco Materazzi sent off, but perhaps he was saving his cards for extra-time. Who was to know they would get a penalty in the last moments?"

You were an excellent target man for Australia. Is that role one of football's thankless jobs?

"Look, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. For Australia, I usually played as a lone striker but I preferred the two-striker system I played in at club level. I was never a fast player and I always preferred another striker near me because it is hard to make headway as a main striker if the wingers are too far apart.

"I'll explain. If I'm playing as a lone striker and facing two defenders, one of them can mark me and take chances because he's not scared since he knows there is another defender covering him. If on the other hand I am one of two strikers facing two defenders, I can keep them on their toes and neither would be keen to commit too much because if one of them does and I turn I'm away and he's on the turf. I am sure most strikers would prefer to play in a two-pronged attack."

Who was the toughest defender you played against?

"When we played against Valencia in the Champions League semis I found stopper Roberto Ayala an incredibly hard defender to deal with. He was not very tall but very clever and very strong."

When you retired 11 years ago, you kept a very low profile when many expected you to try your hand at coaching. It appears the dugout is not for you.

"Whether it is for me or not I wouldn't know because I have never tried it. After I quit, I consciously wanted to spend more time with my family and see our three sons grow up after I dedicated so many years of my life to football. When you are a professional player, everything revolves around football... winning, losing, moving from one club to another and so on. I had been in the spotlight and under pressure from a very young age and it obviously was very stressful and it takes it out on you."

Finally, who were the best players you have played with and against?

"Kewell no doubt was my best teammate at club and Socceroos level. I should also mention Frenchman Olivier Dacourt who was an incredible midfielder at Leeds."

"The best player I faced at international level would have to be midfielder Zinedine Zidane. We played the French in Melbourne in 2001 and he was amazing. He is top, top class. At club level, as I said, Ayala stands out."

MARK VIDUKA FACTFILE

Club career
1993-1995: Melbourne Knights
1995-1998: Dinamo Zagreb
1998-2000: Celtic
2000-2004: Leeds United
2004-2007: Middlesbrough
2007-2009: Newcastle United

International career
1994-2007: Australia (43 matches)

Honours
National Soccer League: Melbourne Knights 1994-95, NSL Cup: Melbourne Knights 1994-95. Croatia championship 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98; Croatia Cup 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98. Scottish League Cup: Celtic 1999-00.