The Socceroos had the chance to scoot nine points clear of Japan in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night in Saitama.
Former Socceroos legend Mark Viduka will become the fourth beneficiary of the highly regarded Alex Tobin medal. The ceremony will take place in February at a gala function celebrating the enormous contribution he has made to the Melbourne football fraternity, the Australian sporting landscape, and his effect on the global stage.
Previous winners of the prestigious medal include Joe Maston, Johnny Warren and Craig Johnston. The medal is named in honour of the former Socceroos captain and record games holder.
Decided by the Professionals Footballers Australia executive and management, the award is given to a former or present player who has exhibited exceptional leadership qualities, has achieved substantially as a player, commitment to ones fellow professionals and has been a great ambassador providing service and dedication to the game.
There is no doubt in one’s mind that Mark Viduka fits the relevant criteria for this respectable medal. Viduka has been a pioneer for Australian football over the past decade.
He burst onto the national scene as a young teenager plying his trade for the Melbourne Knights, a club of his proud Croatian heritage in the now defunct National Soccer League. His first two seasons as a professional from 1993-95, he scored an astonishing 40 goals from 48 appearances for the Knights.
Ever since that period, he excelled to new heights and accordingly has lived up to his much publicised potential.
Capped 43 times for the Socceroos and captaining his national team during the memorable 2006 World Cup Campaign was one of his proudest moments throughout his remarkable career.
His effect on football in Australia has been quite astonishing. The use of product positioning- how the consumer thinks of a product/brand in one’s mind in contrast to other products/brands within their relevant market, can be identified in this case.
In this instance, when an Australian sport fan reminisces over the “golden generation” of Socceroos players, one must imagine (product position) that Mark Viduka will be one of the first players that come to mind.
He represents a symbolic icon of Australian football. It is apparent that Viduka has had an enormous impact on the image of the Australian game during and after his lustrous football career.
Former Socceroo team-mate and long time friend Josip Skoko reflected these sentiments: “With such a career behind him, the other players always feel that someone like that has no fear of the opposition.
He’s done almost everything and played against the best, so it definitely gives you confidence when a player like that is leading you (as captain). He was the striker and the team revolved around him in 2006 (World Cup) and he always took a couple of players away from the other team,” he said.
Viduka has been an inspiration to kids all over the nation. Not only has he been a great ambassador for the game, he has been a great role model for children to aspire to. The professional manner he went about his football on and off the pitch was a testament to his character throughout his wonderful career.
In doing this, kids grew up idolising the centre forward; living in the hope of following in the great mans footsteps.
An impressive resume of clubs including Melbourne Knights, Croatia Zagreb, Celtic, Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United are a true reflection of his status within the game.
In the 2000/01 season who could forget Viduka’s famous performance at Elland Road, where an inspirational exhibition of four goals by the Melbournian guided the once almighty Leeds United to a 4-3 victory against Liverpool. It was a landmark moment for the young centre forward. He cemented himself on the world stage as on of the finest players at the time.
Josip Simunic, a footballer who grew up in Australia but represented Croatia, the country of his ancestors, believes that Viduka is one of the all time stars of his current generation. “I believe he was one of the best strikers in the world and every single player I’ve spoken to has said he’s a great player.
“He’s quick, he’s difficult to mark, he holds the ball up so well and he was the captain (in the 2006 World Cup), which shows his quality and his personality,” Simunic said.
Currently living in Melbourne, Viduka, 35, has seemingly retired from football. He has not played a competitive fixture since Newcastle United was relegated from the EPL in the 2008/09 season. Since his decision to leave football in Europe, speculation erupted that an imminent return to play in Australia was on the cards.
Albeit A-League clubs from his hometown city, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart having an avid interest in securing his services, the dream wasn’t meant to be.
Viduka has stated that an injury prone body cannot give him the guarantee of playing at the peak of his performance. Amid a player of such statue and admiration, the Australian public would have loved to see Viduka have a stint in the A-League. We can only imagine the media publicity and hype it would have generated.
Conversely, his decision to leave the game while at the pinnacle of his career must be respected and applauded.
Mark Viduka will forever be an icon of Australian football. On and off the field he has served his nation in a proud, honourable and respectful manner. The Alex Tobin medal is a true indication of what the great man has contributed towards the world game. Seeing Viduka honoured along side some of the greats of Australian football is truly an astonishing achievement.
Well done “Dukes”, you have done Australia proud.