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It is long, but a good read.:)


Mark my words
January 23, 2005 - 12:00AM

In a rare in-depth interview, Victoria’s leading soccer player, Mark Viduka, talks about the World Cup, the state of Australian soccer and his future in the game. He spoke to Michael Lynch in London.

As Middlesbrough braces itself for all manner of crucial matches in the coming month - English Premier League, FA Cup ties and UEFA Cup legs - its striker Mark Viduka has in mind what he regards a potentially more significant date.

"The main thing is that game, the qualifying game, against the South Americans. It is the game," he said with conviction.

"I want to be fit for that game, whatever happens. I would love to play for Australia in this Confederations Cup as well, but the main thing is that we qualify for the World Cup, and that is a huge game for us."

Not that Boro fans should be alarmed that his commitment to Australia's World Cup qualification signals any lack of commitment to the Riverside cause.

Viduka, who signed a three-year deal before this season, is enjoying his soccer in the north-east of England and believes the Teesside club will continue to improve, push for a top-four finish and a Champions League berth or perhaps add a UEFA Cup to the League Cup (the club's first trophy) collected last year.

But it is understandable that he and several of his international teammates should feel so strongly about this World Cup qualifying campaign. For many, including the big striker who turns 30 in October, it will, in all likelihood, be their last shot at attaining the holy grail of Australian soccer.

This will be Viduka's third campaign. Now a hardened professional, he knows that just because Australia feels it deserves to be at the World Cup, and just because it has had so many heart-breaking disappointments in the past, does not mean that somehow fate will intervene and allow the nation to qualify this time.

He remembers the incredulity and disbelief in the dressing room after Australia squandered its lead against Iran at the MCG; he also recalls the blankness after the defeat in Montevideo, the realisation that there would be no chance to atone for four long years.

Yes, he says, there have been lessons learnt, but just how applicable they are is a moot point.

"The game against Uruguay... that was a massive game. A lot of times, it's difficult to learn from because it goes just like that, it goes so quickly. You are under so much pressure to do it (qualify), and you want to do it as well as you can, and you want to get through. It was the same with the Iran game.

Failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1998 and 2002, above, still rankles Viduka.

"Everyone said after that... you will learn from it. But soccer is so surprising, you don't know what's going to be around the corner. After that Iran game, we were so disappointed..."

There was a belief that because the Socceroos were so spectacularly dudded in 1997, the sporting gods would smile on them in 2001.

"I think we got into a frame of mind, not only us, but football supporters in general in Australia, that because we lost against Iran in that sort of manner, we deserve to be there this time. I think that's how a lot of us were feeling (against Uruguay).

"And then when it happened, when we lost, it was just like, ‘What is this, why, why?'. In Montevideo after the game, everyone was in shock, more than anything. And you are thinking, ‘Are we meant to be in this bloody World Cup or are we not meant to be?'

"It's weird, football is like that. One day you can be unbelievably confident that the team is going to win, and it doesn't happen. So I am very, very wary of saying you can take so much out of these sort of experiences."

With Uruguay again looming as a play-off candidate, Viduka would relish the chance to return to Montevideo, although he is not fussed about who Australia faces.

"I would be happy to have Uruguay again. If it's Brazil and we get through, I don't mind. If, over the two legs, we have a little bit of luck and we play really well and do that, I don't care who we play.

"A lot of the players, especially now, are really desperate to make it. I can't really see myself going another World Cup campaign. Realistically, this will be my last chance to be there. There are other very experienced players - Craig Moore, Musky (Kevin Muscat), Poppa (Tony Popovic), Lazza (Stan Lazaridis), Tony Vidmar - it's quite an old team.

"I remember when Arnie (assistant Socceroo coach Graham Arnold) was playing, and people like him, Robbie Hooker, Robbie Slater, after the Iran game, they were devastated... I hope I don't have to feel that."

Viduka believes that not only would World Cup qualification provide the impetus for soccer to shake off its second-tier status in Australian sport, it would also unite the country in a way no other national team could.

"I have been a football supporter in Australia all my life. But if you are a football supporter, you know what it's like to be the whole time a second-class citizen in sports terms to AFL and whatever.

"For all those people who have really always supported and gone to see their NSL teams year after year, qualification would be fantastic. We (the players) would really love to see, for that year, everyone talking about soccer.

"In Australia, I don't think there is another team that can bring out as much patriotism as the Socceroos can. Everybody passionately supported Australia at games at the MCG, against Iran and Uruguay, and while they were on, everyone was talking and supporting the Socceroos.

"When you are so far away from home, you forget about how much people support the game there. Here in England, everybody is so passionate about the game, it's their life.

"Here, you never see Australian soccer, you see cricket and rugby. So for once, it would be really good to see Australian fans able to come to Europe for a World Cup."

While the World Cup qualifiers loom large, this is a busy year for the national team. Viduka's hamstring injury almost certainly will rule him out of Australia's game against South Africa in Durban next month, but he expects to be in Australia for the match against Iraq in late March.

He is looking forward to the planned match against Croatia in June and then the Confederations Cup, where the Socceroos have been drawn against Argentina, Tunisia and host Germany.

"Barring injury, I will definitely be available for the Confederations Cup. I have already planned my time around that. Argentina and Germany will be great, give us a very good indication of where we are. For us, it's a tournament situation and it gives us tough competition."

Viduka is desperately hoping the new A-League is a success, with strong clubs providing players with the chance to remain in the game if and when they decide to return home.

Viduka had considered becoming an investor in the Victorian bid that was being put together by his former Melbourne Knights and Socceroos teammate Steve Horvat, but decided not to. In the end, the other consortium, Melbourne Victory, won the licence.

"I am very interested in the A-League. I was looking at investing in the Melbourne team, but I just felt in the end that it wasn't the right thing to do, to be taking one side or the other. I want to be seen to be supporting soccer in general. I would support any Melbourne team. So I didn't feel it was worth it being involved in one team against another.

"Maybe I could come back and play... maybe. It depends on how I am fitness-wise and how I feel. But I would love to be involved in something like that, whether that's for a couple of years or even longer term."

Should he wind his career down in the blue of Melbourne Victory, he would have turned full circle. "My fondest memories of football, the best times I have ever had probably in football, were the times I was playing at home, for the Melbourne Knights. I went there as a kid, playing for Melbourne Croatia, I started in 1982 when I was a little six-yearold.

"My goal in life was to play for Melbourne Croatia, and then to actually do that, play in a team like that, in my home town, with my family...," he shakes his head and smiles as if he can't quite believe the sheer pleasure he derived from it.

"In the summer, we used to train in the morning sessions, and then go to the beach, and come back for an afternoon session at six o'clock. It was a great time for me. I was very proud and happy, and it was great fun.

"The English kids who are born here and are able to play and earn that sort of money and recognition at home, they're the luckiest people on earth, but I don't think they realise it.

"I would do anything if that could happen in Australia, and this A-League looks like it is a step towards that. I really hope it works because people want to watch good football, and it seems to be what soccer needed, a little bit of organisation and credibility. I really hope, and I know the rest of the players also hope, that it can be done properly."

For those who remember him as a teenager terrorising National Soccer League defences in the early 1990s, it probably will come as a shock to realise that he has been away from his Keilor home for a decade now, playing, and learning, about life in Croatia, Scotland and England.

Things were not always rosy - his time at Croatia (now Dinamo) Zagreb turned sour, while his runaway from Celtic on the day he signed made his introduction to the Glasgow team's fiercely loyal fan base problematic. Needless to say, he won them over with his goal-scoring exploits.

His time at Leeds United contained some fantastic highs (including a Champions League semi-final) but also some dreadful lows, culminating in the bust-up with then manager Peter Reid and the club's subsequent relegation.

He still lives in West Yorkshire and has an affection for Leeds United, stays in touch with several former teammates and has great admiration for the supporters, among the most fanatical in England.

"In that Leeds team, we did have a lot of quality players but at the time, I think what got us through matches and to that sort of level was the energy in the team. Everybody was working so hard and we used to go to teams and just our presence would scare them before we even started.

"They would see players like Lee Bowyer who would be running all day. Nobody could even compete with him. There was Harry (Kewell) on the left who would take on players, and it would come at them from all directions and nobody could deal with that.

"We had some really good times and played some really good games, and some of those European nights in particular were very special. We beat Deportivo, we beat Lazio, drew with Milan, beat Anderlecht 4-0 at their ground, and nobody had beaten them for 15 years at their ground.

"Leeds will always be close to my heart as a team, even though now when you go there it's totally different, with all different players. It will always be part of me, especially because I still live there, and there has not been a person who has said a bad thing to me in the area since I left."

He believes that Boro is the best poster on KA forum, where Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is a teammate, can aspire to the heights Leeds achieved - with one critical difference. The maturity of the playing group might allow it to enjoy sustained, rather than fleeting, success.

"When I was at Leeds, it happened all of a sudden. Overnight, everyone was famous, earned a lot of money and a lot of them (the players) didn't know how to deal with it. I think they are more mature here.

"I think the Boro side has got what it takes to match the Leeds performance. This team is a little bit different, but I think we have the experience and we also have the skills.

"There is a feeling that the club can take the next step. We have got a lot of players in the squad now who have played at the top levels."

There was a time when Australian fans in particular would have loved Viduka to move to mainland Europe, where periodically some of the biggest clubs on the continent were linked with him. Could that still happen?

"Times have changed on the continent. Three or four years ago, I would have said yes, I would have loved to have played there and even now I would, but financially, especially in Italy, there are big problems. There are a lot of players who want to get out of Italy... most of the clubs are broke.

"Somewhere like Spain would be a beautiful place to play, I think, but I like playing in the Premiership. I love the English fans, I think they are the best fans in the world because they follow their teams all the time.

"Last year at Leeds, towards the end, I think the fans followed and supported Leeds better when we were getting relegated than when we were in the Champions League. For me, that was amazing.

"I have been in places where they spit on you if you are not going well, places where they would throw something at your car, whereas in England, everybody was so supportive."

While happy and settled in England, it is clear that Viduka is still very much a home boy.

"I feel at home here. I love England, and I love the English people, they are very friendly but there comes a time when you miss home, it's very difficult. You are a foreigner in the country, you know you are here temporarily. You always think about home. It's never the same."

So will Australian fans see him settling down at home when he is finished in Europe, playing soccer in the A-League. "Probably, probably, most likely. It's not finalised. I still have not decided, it's not just for me to decide.

"My wife is from Zagreb, so we will have to wait and see what will happen. I really do think so, although maybe Australia has changed. I have been away for so long, maybe my perception of the country has changed, too."

7,015 Posts
Ahh yes, Mark Viduka - one of football's notorious under-achievers.

With the ability he posseses Viduka should undoubtedly be playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Due to his unprofessional attitude and mercenary-type personality he's at Middlesbrough instead achieving nothing.

What age is Viduka now incidentally?

2,457 Posts
King_Henrik said:
With the ability he posseses Viduka should undoubtedly be playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Due to his unprofessional attitude and mercenary-type personality he's at Middlesbrough instead achieving nothing.

What he achived at Leeds in season 2000-01 was good enough of sorts. Take it your estimation of the bloke comes from his bust up with John Barnes @ Celtic. Understandable, since Barnes acieved so much at Parkhead. :rolleyes: I gues you can't help but think "What if?". Personally I would've preferred him to go to Italy or Spain. But he chose to in England. Can't blame him really as his priorities llie in the $$$$$$$. Best player I've ever seen here. :strong:

What age is Viduka now incidentally?
Turns 30 on October 9. Can't believe I can memorise that in my dementia. :shades:

25,881 Posts
Evil 37 said:
I gues you can't help but think "What if?". Personally I would've preferred him to go to Italy or Spain. But he chose to in England. Can't blame him really as his priorities llie in the $$$$$$$. Best player I've ever seen here. :strong:
He had the opportunity to make more money with a move to Bayern Munich, but instead he chose to go to Middlesbrough because it's close to his house and he wouldn't have had to move. :rolleyes:

4,242 Posts
Mark Viduka's better than Pizzarro and Roque Santa Cruz in my opinion and would of got plenty of time, been challenging for honours playing for a proud club while also on more money.And he could of ended his career knowing he fullfilled his potential.

6,761 Posts
King of the Kop said:
Mark Viduka's better than Pizzarro and Roque Santa Cruz in my opinion and would of got plenty of time, been challenging for honours playing for a proud club while also on more money.And he could of ended his career knowing he fullfilled his potential.
Well thats your opinion and I will respect that.
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