CLASSY striker Mark Viduka celebrates his 40th birthday today - and how he produced a medley of memories during his time at Leeds United.
Viduka arrived at Elland Road in the summer of 2000 with the gifted Australian with the twinkled-toed feet managing to net 72 goals in 166 appearances for the Whites after arriving from Glasgow Celtic for £6m.
Viduka’s four seasons at Leeds produced highs and lows during a roller-coaster period in West Yorkshire, but his quality was never in doubt.
Viduka was linked with a host of clubs in the summer of 2000, fresh from being voted Players’ Player of the Year in Scotland after scoring 27 goals in 37 games for the Hoops.
One of those clubs was Leeds and despite chairman Peter Ridsdale dismissing speculation that the club were to sign Viduka by saying: “We’ll be signing Elvis Presley next”, United agreed a deal with Celtic not too long after.
Viduka made his mark at Leeds with a highly-impressive 22 goals in his maiden season of 2000-01, while also being named as the Oceania Footballer of the Year in January 2001.
He actually had to wait until October of his first season before breaking his goalscoring duck, in a 6-0 Champions League routing of Besiktas. After that, the goals flowed.
His piece de resistance arrived when he memorably netted all four goals in an amazing 4-3 televised victory over Liverpool at Elland Road on November 4, 2000.
Playing down his efforts that day, the self-effacing Melbourne-born striker said: “It was one of those games. Every time I had a sniff at goal, it went in.
“It is very rare that you get that kind of game. It was good to be part of it, anyway.
“I didn’t think I played all that well. I have scored four before in a match, although never at this level.”
After his feats in that debut season, Viduka started to attract interest from Real Madrid and AC Milan, with Leeds soon tabling him a lucrative new five-year contract worth 25,000 per week, which he signed.
That following campaign, Viduka hit 15 goals and eclipsed that tally with 22 in 2002-03, with his goals in the run-in helping to extinguish the threat of relegation.
From the start of March 2003 to the end of the campaign, Viduka struck 14 goals, including a memorable hat-trick in a 6-1 win at Charlton Athletic during the reign of Peter Reid.
But his golden moment arrived at Highbury, with his 88th-minute winner in a precious 3-2 triumph ensuring United’s Premier League status and ending grave fears of the drop.
Viduka’s final season at Leeds proved somewhat more forgettable, even if he ended the campaign as United’s top-scorer once again.
Inter Milan had been linked with a loan move for him in the summer of 2003, but the move was rejected amid speculation regarding his future.
In the autumn, Leeds insisted that Viduka was not for sale, with the forward fined in November by Reid for turning up late for training and not travelling with the squad for the game at Portsmouth after a “training ground incident” - believed to be a bust-up with Reid.
The season ended in wretched relegation, with Viduka singled out by a minority of fans for being one of the major contributors to the club’s demise, something that the forward strenuously refuted.
Viiduka made goalscoring contributions in spring wins over Wolves and Blackburn, but was sent off in a 3-2 late-season win against Leicester, with his final goal for Leeds coming at Bolton on May 2, 2004 - when United’s fate was sealed and the second tier beckoned.
Viduka was ultimately destined for Middlesbrough, where he enjoyed a rewarding time under Steve McClaren before winding down his top-flight career in the north-east with Newcastle United.
Thanks for the memories at United, Mark. Happy birthday.