DEBUT DAYS – MARK VIDUKA

27 FEBRUARY 1999 CELTIC 2-1 DUNDEE UNITED

In August 1998 Celtic were defeated 3-1 on aggregate by Croatia Zagreb in the final Champions League qualifying round. Zagreb were a very impressive side, a tremendous mixture of strength and technique, and one of their best players over the two legs had been the Australian-Croat, Marko Viduka.

Viduka was so impressive that Celtic opened transfer discussions soon afterwards and after prolonged negotiations with the Croatians in Zagreb, he arrived in Glasgow to sign for Celtic in late November.

He dropped the ‘o’ from his Christian name and became plain Mark Viduka, and it was hoped his signature would give Celtic a lift in their league title battle with Rangers after the team had suffered an indifferent spell of results.

However, controversy was to be a constant companion for Viduka during his time at Celtic and on December 5th it was discovered that he had returned to Australia, citing problems with stress, and was said to be actually considering giving football up all together. Having spent £3.5M on their new star striker, this was not the news that Fergus McCann and the Celtic fans wanted to hear.

Twenty four hours after Viduka’s disappearance, Celtic visited Tynecastle and lost 2-1 to Hearts which only served to add to the frustration of the supporters. At one point it was felt that Viduka would never return but in February an olive branch was handed out to him by the club and the big Australian eventually arrived back in Scotland, with the Scots’ press taking a particular interest in his girlfriend, Ivana.

Viduka’s pending debut helped to attract a magnificent crowd of 59,902 to Parkhead for the game against Dundee United, although Celtic’s new signing had to make do with a place on the bench.

The first half was a dreadful affair with Celtic playing poorly and United taking advantage by taking the lead, courtesy of a Billy Dodds goal. With Celtic in need of inspiration, manager Jozef Venglos, decided to throw Viduka into the fray to replace the ineffective Harold Brattback.

The substitution had the desired effect and it raised the spirits of both the players and the supporters alike. In 74 minutes Craig Burley equalised and just four minutes later, the incomparable Henrik Larsson snatched a typical opportunist goal to grab the winning goal to keep the Celtic title challenge alive.

In his 36 minutes on the field of play, Mark Viduka had impressed everyone with his intelligent play and he had been unlucky not to score when he headed just over and then when he had, audaciously, tried to lob United goalkeeper, Sieb Dykstra, from 25 yards.

Mark Viduka’s Celtic career was now off and running. The Australian was to enjoy good times and suffer difficult periods during his time in Glasgow but there is one thing that can be said for definite. Life was never dull when he was around.

 

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