'Home is Where the Heart Is' Says the 'V Bomber'

He may have travelled the world, but Mark Viduka knows where his heart lies.

He may have travelled the world, but Mark Viduka knows where his heart lies.

He may have played at Rome-s Stadio Olympico, Manchester United-s Old Trafford, the San Siro in Milan and the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, but it-s the thought of Melbourne-s MCG that makes the Socceroo captain-s heart beat a little faster.

For a player of Viduka-s stature, the top leagues of Europe were always going to call loudest, in a career that has taken him a long way from the club where it all began - the Melbourne Knights in the city-s western suburbs.

The tall striker with a silken first touch initially went overseas to Croatia, the land of his parents- birth, where he cut his teeth in one of Europe-s most under-rated and demanding leagues. His success in a country in which he now regularly holidays prompted one of Britain-s biggest clubs, Celtic, to tempt him to Scotland. Then came Leeds United - and with it a partnership with Qantas Socceroo team-mate Harry Kewell - followed by a move to current club Middlesbrough in England-s north-east.

But the fame and fortune can-t replicate the relaxed joy of a beachside lifestyle in Victoria. He may have a holiday home in Croatia, may take in the cities of Europe on club duty, but one place will always hold sway.

"Melbourne is my city, and it-s close to my heart," declares Viduka, talking with a smile on his face at the thought. "Some of the most beautiful days of my football career were playing in Australia, when I could go to the beach in the morning and train in the afternoon and then go out at night.

"It-s a great lifestyle (in Melbourne), it really is. Here in Britain it-s 10 months of heavy rain and muddy pitches! I love it in Britain, don-t get me wrong, I-ve had a great time there, but my heart will always lead me back to Australia and that is why I am looking forward so much to getting back there to play Greece."

Viduka has played at the MCG on four occasions and two of those ended in heartbreak being the scene for the end of the 1997 and 2001 World Cup campaigns.

One of the first acts of new coach Guus Hiddink was to make Viduka captain of the Socceroos, and the look on his face when the appointment was announced, just seconds after the player himself was given the role, was like a schoolboy who-s just realised it-s Christmas tomorrow, and the presents are all labelled 'Mark'.

"I don-t know what I was thinking that day, it was such a shock. But I don-t feel any pressure with it, no, it pumps me up. I enjoy it, I enjoy the responsibility. I feel I can add something to the team as captain, and make a difference."

It is now 12 years since Viduka-s commenced his national team career as a teenager meaning that despite being just 30 years of age he is currently placed in the top ten all-time list for Socceroo longevity. Stalwart defender and current defender Tony Vidmar sits atop that list having made his debut in 1991.

After five matches wearing the arm-band - double headers against the Solomon Islands and then Uruguay plus the friendly with Jamaica - Viduka will lead his team out against Greece on May 25 at the newly-renovated MCG, possibly the proudest man among up to 100,000 Australian football fanatics.

"That will be a dream come true," he said. "My home town, leading out my country, in the game that will send us off to the World Cup. It-s the ultimate honour, and will make me even more determined to lead the team with honour in Germany.”

Before the World Cup odyssey commences against Greece, there is of course the little matter of the UEFA Cup Final this week in Rotterdam where Middlesbrough will be looking to claim the club-s first ever European silverware against impressive Spanish outfit Sevilla. Winning would not only be a first for the club but also for Australian football with Newcastle Jets- Ned Zelic the only Aussie to have played in a UEFA Cup final, which he did with the losing Borussia Dortmund side against Juventus in 1993. Viduka, plus fellow Aussies in former Qantas under 23 Brad Jones and injured Socceroo shot-stopper Mark Schwarzer, will be looking to create history in the De Kuip stadium where Australia will also meet the Netherlands on June 4.

Viduka is hoping with some degree of expectation that his home city, widely regarded as Australia-s sporting capital, can help to send the team off to Germany with a win. Not only will Melbournian fans be looking to emulate the incredible support afforded the Socceroos against Uruguay but also outdo the figure of just under 83,000 who attended Telstra Stadium.

"The atmosphere is Sydney was unbelievable with everyone wearing gold and I hope that my home town can produce the same against Greece."

Mark Viduka Fact File Born: 9.10.75, Melbourne

Socceroo honours: 33 appearances (6 goals) [1994-2005] 31 A internationals (6 goals) / 2 non-A internationals

All games (and goals): 1994 South Africa, South Africa 1997 Makedonia, Hungary, Tunisia (1 gl), Iran, Iran, Mexico (1 gl), Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, Brazil 1998 Croatia, USA 1999 [Non-A] World Stars, Brazil B 2000 Hungary, Czech Republic 2001 France, Uruguay, Uruguay 2003 England, Ireland (1 gl), Jamaica 2004 South Africa, Norway 2005 Argentina, Tunisia, Solomon Islands [c] (2 gls), Solomon Islands [c], Jamaica [c] (1 gl), Uruguay [c], Uruguay [c]

Other Australian representative honours: U-20 - 1995 World Youth Championship (Qatar) - captain U-23 - 1996 Olympic Games (Atlanta) 2000 Olympic Games (Sydney)

Club career: 1992-93 - Australian Institute of Sport 1993 -1995 - Melbourne Knights 48 appearances (40 goals) 1995 - 1998 - Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) 83 appearances (40 goals) 1999 - 2000 - Celtic (Scotland) 38 appearances (30 goals) 2000 - 2004 - Leeds United (England) 130 appearances (59 goals) 2004 - Middlesbrough (England) 43 appearances (12 goals) N.B. Figures do not include cup matches