Viduka hits the mark

After a great time with Leeds United, Australian striker Mark Viduka has finally found his feet this season for Middlesbrough and people of his country would hope that his good form continues in the World Cup, writes Andy Hampson.

Mark Viduka, the in-form striker currently spearheading Middlesbrough's drive for success in the UEFA Cup competition and preparing to lead Australia's attack at the World Cup in the summer, is one of the most prominent players in the English Premier League. He has consistently excelled for Leeds United and now for Boro, although a lack of consistency at times has led to accusations of laziness and a poor attitude.

Viduka was born and raised in Melbourne, where his Croatian parents had settled. His interest in football came from his father, Joe, who encouraged him to play at every opportunity. Joe Viduka was a hard-working builder with five children to bring up. But Joe says he was often prepared to "drop everything" so that his son could play football.

Viduka earned a place at the Australian Institute of Sport and his striking prowess brought him to the attention of Melbourne Knights. He joined the Knights in 1994 but stayed just one year as, after scoring 18 goals in 22 appearances, Croatia Zagreb took advantage of his Croatian parentage to bring him to Europe.

His progress continued as he scored 40 goals in 84 games over three years and clubs elsewhere were starting to become interested. He eventually joined Celtic for GBP3.5 million in November 1998 after impressing against the Glasgow side in a UEFA Cup tie.

It was at this time that Viduka, then known as Marko, became Mark as his agent requested journalists to drop the `o'.

The move to Scotland was far from straightforward as both clubs criticised each other over the handling of the deal.

In December, Viduka appeared to walk out on Celtic without having played for them due to stress. Croatia Zagreb claimed they had not received their fee but the matter was eventually resolved and Viduka returned.

Viduka made his mark with 27 goals in the 1999-2000 season and was named Scottish Premier League's Player of the Year, but he did not endear himself greatly to fans and there were doubts he could cut it at the top level. His time north of the border, having started with reports of a breakdown, was not always a happy one.

He showed an ambivalence towards the club and comments that he only needed to play at "70 per cent capacity" to succeed in Scotland did not go down well with fans or teammates. He rarely fired in big games, principally the Old Firm derbies against Rangers, and there were a series of incidents that cast him as an enigmatic and unreliable figure. He was labelled a footballing mercenary by some and his sale to Leeds United in 2000 was not a surprise.

Viduka impressed in Leeds' surprise run to the semifinals of the Champions League in 2000-01. He scored 22 goals in his first season at Elland Road, 16 the following year and another 22 to almost single-handedly save a by-then imploding club from relegation in 2002-03. Leeds could not survive another year, however, as their financial problems began to bite and like most of their top earners Viduka was sold after relegation in the summer of 2004.

At his Leeds peak, Viduka had been linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Roma but Middlesbrough proved to be his next destination in a GBP4.5 million move. He took time to settle on Teesside mainly due to injury problems but he has now started to hit form in the latter half of the 2005-06 season, propelling Boro to the semifinals of the UEFA Cup and FA Cup. Viduka's Croatian wife Ivana is a former model. The pair married in Dubrovnik in summer 2001. The ceremony, which only about 30 people attended, was so low-key that Viduka's Leeds teammates did not even know about it. Former Croatian international Goran Juric was the best man. The couple had their first child later that year.

Viduka is a known lover of sports cars, particularly Porsches. He owned a Porsche 911 during his time at Celtic and recently had a black Cayenne. It was reported Viduka sped up to Teesside in a silver Mercedes on the last day of the January 2004 transfer window to finalise a switch to Middlesbrough immediately after returning from a trip to Australia to visit his ill father.

Viduka claimed the story was not true and that he had no intention of leaving Leeds at that time. A move to Middlesbrough did, of course, go through that summer.

FACTFILE

Position: Striker Club: Middlesbrough DOB: 09/10/75 Australia Caps: 33 Australia Goals: 6 Australia Debut: v South Africa, June 1994

Moment to remember: Etched himself into Leeds folklore with all four goals in a quite remarkable 4-3 win over Liverpool at Elland Road in November 2000. Liverpool won three trophies that season but could not handle Viduka that afternoon as the Australian equalised three times and then grabbed a dramatic winner.

Moment to forget: It was a different story earlier that year as Celtic suffered an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to lower league Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup. Viduka threw a tantrum at half-time, threw off his boots and refused to continue playing. The result cost John Barnes his job as Celtic manager.

WHAT THEY SAID "He was quite fast and dribbling."

— Arsene Wenger was obviously impressed by the squirrel that interrupted Arsenal's Champions League semifinal with Villarreal.

"That's it. It's all over. There's a tear in the medial ligament which, although it does not require an operation, means I will be in a knee brace for a few weeks. Deep down I knew when I limped out of the Stadium of Light that it was probably the end and I think the fans knew it as well. They know I don't stay down unless I'm badly hurt. It's disappointing, but I've got no regrets. I've had a great career."

— Alan Shearer confirms he has played his last game for Newcastle after a season-ending injury against Sunderland.

"Who do I owe, and for what? Don't you see my commitment on the pitch? I'm a human being and need time to take my decision. I don't think about the word `owe'. I owe something to my Dad, yes, who put me on this planet."

— Thierry Henry when asked if Arsenal fans are owed a decision on whether he will stay at the club.

"I like going horse racing sometimes just for a day out, but I have never been a card man in my life. The only thing I've played is snap."

— David Beckham.

"To be a winner in competitions like the Premier League you don't need artists, you need every-day players."

— Jose Mourinho.

"I heard Jol on the radio on Saturday saying that it could be a good time to be playing us. I thought: `Oh really'."

— Sir Alex Ferguson reveals the motivation behind Man Utd's win at Tottenham.

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