Mark Viduka did not enjoy the most favorable start to life as a Leeds United player.
Bought from Celtic for £ 6 million in the summer of 2000, the Australian’s integration into David O’Leary’s youthful and ambitious team was delayed for the first time by work permit complications.
Chairman Peter Ridsdale blamed the quagmire of red tape for the 24-year-old’s failure to play regularly enough for Australia for the past two years.
Mark Viduka is harassed by his Leeds teammates in their epic 4-3 win over Liverpool
The Australian forward carries the match ball away after an unstoppable showing in a 4-3 thriller
Ironically, within weeks of Viduka’s arrival on Elland Road, he flew 10,500 miles to the other side of the world to represent his country at the Sydney Olympics.
O’Leary was not at all happy with the hiatus at the start of a campaign in which Leeds was expected to push Manchester United for the Premier League title and also play in the Champions League.
Viduka’s absence made him miss red letter opportunities against Barcelona and AC Milan.
At least Australia broke out early, losing all three games, and Viduka shrugged off the jet lag with five goals in three games on his return.
Leeds and Liverpool will meet on Elland Road on Monday evening, but it will take a bit to match the November 2000 classic. Pictured is Steven Gerrard (center) taking on Olivier Dacourt (left) and Eirik Bakke (right) from Leeds
But it wasn’t until a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon in early November that Viduka finally secured a place in the hearts of the Leeds faithful.
His astonishing four-goal haul in a thrilling 4-3 win over Liverpool, in a match that everyone expected O’Leary’s side to lose comfortably, immediately won a place in Premier League folklore.
If the match between the two sides in West Yorkshire is half as good tonight, we are in for a real treat.
Two decades ago hopes of keeping up with Man United on the Premier League summit for Leeds faded – they had lost 3-0 at Old Trafford at the end of October – and O’Leary struggled with an injury crisis.
Leeds forward Alan Smith is dragged back by Liverpool defender Markus Babbel
LEEDS UNITED 4
FA Premiership; Saturday November 4, 2000
Elland Road – turnout 40,555
Leeds United (4-4-2): Paul Robinson; Gary Kelly, Jonathan Woodgate (Danny Hay 16), Dominic Matteo, Ian Harte; Lee Bowyer, Eirik Bakke, Olivier Dacourt, Jacob Burns; Mark Viduka, Alan Smith
Replacements not used: Danny Milosevic (GK); Matt Jones, Gareth Evans
Manager: David O’Leary
Scorer: Viduka 24, 47, 73, 75
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Sander Westerveld; Jamie Carragher, Markus Babbel, Sami Hyypia, Christian Ziege; Dietmar Hamann, Gary McAllister (Steven Gerrard 68), Danny Murphy (Robbie Fowler 68), Patrik Berger (Nicky Barmby 74); Vladimir Smicer; Emile Heskey
Replacements not used: Pegguy Arphexad (GK); Stephane Henchoz
Manager: Gerard Houllier
Scorers: Hyypia 2; Goat 18; Smicer 61
Booked: Goat, Berger, Babbel, Carragher
Referee: David Elleray
Key figures Harry Kewell, Lucas Radebe, Danny Mills and Nigel Martyn were all absent from the Liverpool visit and Leeds could only name four players on the bench.
It was a desperate situation and things got worse within two minutes when Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia rose completely unmarked to head in for Patrik Berger’s free kick.
Only fifteen minutes left and defender Jonathan Woodgate was added to the injury list, replaced by the inexperienced Danny Hay.
No one was in the slightest surprised when Christian Ziege nodded in a free kick from Gary McAllister for his first Liverpool goal and the writing was very much on the wall for this worn down Leeds team.
“After a 2-0 deficit, you know how it is, your confidence is diminishing,” said Viduka Leeds Live recently.
“I think there was a little hope when I scored the first goal.”
That happened after 24 minutes when Alan Smith entered Ziege’s clearance, the ball bouncing straight to Viduka, whose devious finish went over Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, across the goal and into it.
Nevertheless, Liverpool should have been home before half-time and had to be hosed down. Vladimir Smicer and Dietmar Hamann both missed clear opportunities and Gary Kelly headed Emile Heskey’s header off the line.
And Viduka would let Gerard Houllier’s team pay two minutes after the break. The six-foot Aussie drifted into a hollow between two defenders to meet Kelly’s cross and shoot an impressive header home.
The game was at stake at the time, but it was Liverpool who seemed to deliver the decisive blow just after the hour.
Ziege advanced to the left and threw a ball into Berger, who chopped back for Smicer to secure an assured finish after clearing the ball away from Dominic Matteo.
But Leeds was far from bowed and the drama was far from over. Viduka’s 3-3 hat-trick goal was arguably the best of the bunch.
He took a pass from Olivier Dacourt and turned 360 degrees to squirm away from Berger before throwing the ball home.
That was in the 73rd minute. Two minutes later, the thrilling turnaround was complete and Viduka became the first Leeds player to score four in a league game since Allan Clarke against Burnley three decades earlier.
Sami Hyypia celebrates with Patrik Berger after opening the scoring just two minutes later
Dacourt put forward a ball that Viduka stole for Hyypia, who believed the forward was offside, before beating Westerveld with the most delicate of the dinked finish to send Elland Road to dreamland.
Viduka celebrated the party by spraying his match champagne man all over his teammates in the locker room and, having slept poorly the night before, went home for a nap before seeing his performance again Match of the day.
“That game I scored four goals, yes, but I was not really happy with my game in terms of playing on the field,” Viduka recalls.
“In a way I have had much better games if I scored and my game on the field would be a lot better.”
And even O’Leary had to admit, in retrospect, that early-season field trip to the Olympics was a good thing.
Viduka gets appreciation from his manager David O’Leary when he leaves the field
The Australian was also able to absorb the acclaim of the Elland Road crowd after his four goals
Match schedule coverage for the game
There is no doubt that the Olympics made him fit. He went and cleared his mind, ”the manager said.
‘This is a bigger and better competition than before and it is more difficult to score goals. But what I liked about him was the hunger he had to test himself.
‘He wanted to show people that he could also score goals here. The only way to answer critics is to put the gauntlet on the playing field and that’s what he did. ‘
Viduka would finish with 22 goals in his first season in English football, but it was a mixed bag for Leeds.
They defied the odds of reaching the Champions League semi-finals and lost to Valencia, but their fourth-place finish in the Premier League – one point behind Liverpool – left them missing out on the elite European competition.
That failure left a shortage of cash that would eventually show how far the club had gone too far in their efforts to win football’s most prestigious accolades.
Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier and assistant Phil Thompson celebrate Vladimir Smicer’s goal – but it turned out to be a disappointing afternoon for them.
Viduka, who had joined Leeds after a £ 6 million move from Celtic, scored 22 goals that season
They fell into a downward spiral into financial obscurity and would be relegated from the top flight three years later, but they returned last season under the management of Marcelo Bielsa.
As for Liverpool, in that season they claimed the kind of silverware that Leeds had so longed for. They won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup in a handsome triple trophy.
But at least on that one afternoon they were really under the spell of a wizard from Oz.