To have fun 30 years of the Premier League, The Athletic is paying tribute to the 50 biggest particular person performances in its historical past, as voted for by our writers. You possibly can learn Oliver Kay’s introduction to our Golden Video games collection (and the choice guidelines) right here — in addition to the total record of all of the articles as they unfold.

Choosing 50 from 309,949 choices is an unattainable activity. You may not agree with their decisions, you received’t agree with the order. They didn’t. It’s not supposed as a definitive record. It’s a little bit of enjoyable, however hopefully a little bit of enjoyable you’ll take pleasure in between now and August.


“I actually didn’t suppose I performed that effectively.”

Admittedly, in a collection celebrating the best 50 particular person performances in Premier League historical past, it’s not a really perfect begin. If even the participant himself doesn’t suppose he was a lot good, then what’s he doing right here?

On this occasion, the participant is Mark Viduka and the efficiency was the time he scored 4 targets for Leeds United towards Liverpool in November 2000, main his crew to a 4-3 win in one of many Premier League’s extra thrilling video games. Simply these naked details are most likely sufficient to recommend the participant in query had a fairly first rate recreation, however Viduka’s opinion that he wasn’t that nice is one he’s caught to.

“I don’t suppose so,” he instructed Sky Sports activities after the ultimate whistle. “I’ve carried out higher in video games however simply didn’t rating this many targets. I don’t suppose I had an exceptionally good recreation, anyway.”

He’s repeated the purpose a number of instances since, too. A layman may suppose that scoring 4 targets could be sufficient to depart a striker glad with their day of labor. However, because it seems, Viduka was after one thing extra.

“As a ahead, you will have a job description,” he tells The Athletic. “You must maintain up play, dribbling, creating possibilities and all the pieces else. Scoring is considered one of your jobs — most likely crucial, sure, however what I used to be referring to was I didn’t suppose I used to be dominant as I must have been doing all the opposite issues.

“I had 4 alternatives to attain and took them, which may be very uncommon in soccer. Generally you will have 4 possibilities and solely rating one, or none. However all the opposite facets: holding up, linking play — there have been different video games the place I did these higher.

“Soccer is the one factor in my life that I’m a perfectionist about. Clearly you’re blissful to attain, however I’ll ask you a query: would you be happier when you had an unbelievable recreation, dribbled previous three gamers and arrange an unbelievable objective, or if the ball comes throughout and hits you on the arse and goes in. What would make you extra fulfilled?”

Properly, when he places it like that… it does current an fascinating query although: what does “enjoying effectively” truly imply? Does it imply efficiently executing numerous fundamental expertise of the sport? Does it imply contributing typically to the crew in a broad manner? Does it imply finishing up a recreation plan effectively? Or does it imply doing the factor that finally we’re all right here for — scoring targets, and doing it a great deal of instances?

The reply, like so many issues in soccer, is subjective. And there may be extra to life than targets. However would anybody actually care if Viduka sparked up a tab, cracked open a number of cans and sat on a beanbag within the centre circle for 85 minutes, so long as he spent the remaining 5 minutes scoring 4 targets? It’s solely been finished 33 different instances within the Premier League, in spite of everything. (5 gamers have additionally scored 5 targets in a single recreation).

Viduka cares, clearly. He cites a Champions League recreation towards Lazio a few weeks later, through which he didn’t rating in any respect, as a efficiency that satisfies him extra. “I arrange Smithy (Alan Smith) with a again heel in that recreation,” he says concerning the recreation’s solely objective. “I discover that kind of factor fulfilling.

“Clearly I might have favored to have scored that day as effectively, however from the beginning, I felt assured, I felt good — I used to be enjoying towards Alessandro Nesta and Fernando Couto, they usually had been struggling towards me. I used to be taking benefit, dribbling, establishing possibilities. That was one recreation that stayed in my thoughts the place I might principally do what I needed on the pitch.”

Having began the dialog with a level of incredulity that he was dissatisfied with seeing the web ripple as soon as, twice, three, 4 instances, I’m nearly satisfied.

However I’m left considering: who, apart from Viduka, goes to recollect a few iffy lay-offs or the odd little bit of poor management? Individuals — particularly the those who had been within the floor on the time — are going to recollect these 4 targets, and this 6ft 3in Australian displaying the kind of poise and delicacy you don’t fairly anticipate from a person of his dimensions. They’re additionally going to recollect the way it felt to be at Elland Street that day, how they skilled that unbelievable ambiance. That’s what issues, not less than to the remainder of us.

“I’ve to confess the finishes had been good,” Viduka says.

Viduka had joined Leeds from Celtic that summer time however issues didn’t get off to a storming begin. He negotiated a clause in his contract that stipulated he could be allowed to play within the Sydney Olympics, which means he performed 5 video games earlier than disappearing for many of September. It wasn’t precisely a roaring success: Australia misplaced all three of their group video games, to Italy, Nigeria and Honduras, and Viduka didn’t rating.

However he was clearly impressed by the expertise, scoring 5 targets in his first three video games after returning, having not managed any within the 5 earlier than his departure. The Olympic jaunt had most likely simply served as a deluxe health camp: his transfer from Celtic had been protracted, so he barely had a pre-season and went into these early Leeds video games considerably undercooked. “There’s little doubt the Olympics obtained him match,” stated Leeds supervisor David O’Leary on the time. “He went and cleared his head.”

It wasn’t simply the dearth of targets in these early weeks that hadn’t created a terrific first impression. “Some individuals had this notion of Mark as a lazy participant,” team-mate Dominic Matteo tells The Athletic, “somebody who didn’t all the time put it in. I hated that. It was a load of bollocks. He sorted himself in addition to anybody in that Leeds crew and I by no means noticed (laziness) in him.

“His ability and method had been sensational. I’d examine him to Robbie Fowler after I consider gamers I performed with, completely high degree. Due to his physique, it was simple to take a look at him as this large No 9 who didn’t get round a lot.”

Leeds got here into this recreation in a barely ropey form. Their remedy room was bursting on the seams, with Lucas Radebe, Michael Bridges, Harry Kewell, Stephen McPhail, Jason Wilcox, Danny Mills, Michael Duberry, David Batty, Darren Huckerby and Nigel Martyn all injured.

Their squad was so depleted that they may solely title 4 of the permitted 5 substitutes. They hadn’t received any of their earlier 5 video games, and though a kind of was a draw with Barcelona within the Champions League, a number of days earlier that they had been knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Tranmere Rovers.

Viduka wasn’t within the biggest of nick both. “It was one of many first early kick-offs (the sport, dwell on Sky, began at 11.30am), so we had been staying within the Malmaison resort within the centre of Leeds.

“We lived in a village close to Wetherby, and we had a Rottweiler known as Tyra. As a result of it was Man Fawkes weekend, individuals had been setting off fireworks and the canine was getting a bit nervous and began barking. My missus was by herself so she was a bit scared, and he or she rang me a number of instances through the night time whereas I used to be attempting to get some sleep.

“The second time she woke me up, I stated, ‘If I’ve a shocker tomorrow, you’re in hassle’. However the reverse occurred, so I ought to have thanked her.”

Issues obtained worse when the soccer began. Sami Hyypia took benefit of some relaxed marking to present Liverpool the lead within the second minute, then Christian Ziege scored an identical objective after 17 minutes to make it 2-0. “Defensively, it wasn’t day for us,” says Matteo. Simply so as to add an extra kick within the pants, Jonathan Woodgate was pressured off with a thigh pressure.

“It was a recreation the place we had been staring down the barrel,” says Viduka. “We had been 2-0 down towards a extremely good crew, then Woody obtained taken off.”

Enter Viduka. After 24 minutes, Ziege dithered over a clearance, Smith closed him down and obtained sufficient on the block to direct the ball into Viduka’s path. He managed fantastically, then delicately dinked over the advancing Sander Westerveld.

Viduka talked about luck earlier, however there wasn’t a lot luck about what he did on this one. Certain, the way in which the ball fell to him for the primary had a component of fortune, however there was nothing fortunate about the way in which he took the finishes. These had been precision strikes, the work of an skilled marksman, “a kind of days” when all the pieces goes proper.

“I bear in mind considering that I used to be one of many individuals Mark’s targets had dug out of hassle,” says Matteo. “However because it went on, I simply discovered myself simply standing again and watching him. That doesn’t occur fairly often. It was like, ‘Fucking hell, what’s taking place right here?’. You understand you’re in the midst of one thing uncommon.”

Liverpool had been nonetheless the higher facet with the higher possibilities however due to Viduka, Leeds had been nonetheless in it. And he drew them degree simply after the break: Gary Kelly drove down the proper and whipped over a terrific cross to the close to put up, the place Viduka had neatly positioned himself within the house between the 2 centre-backs.

There was about one sq. yard of house within the objective that he might have put the ball in, and he managed it, a wonderfully positioned header that, watching it again now, had similarities to the primary of Karim Benzema’s excellent headers towards Chelsea within the Champions League final season.

“Gary Kelly did an enormous factor there,” says Viduka. “Out of nowhere, he gave me an ideal cross. As a ahead you go entrance or again put up: the cross was excellent. The place I used to be in, I used to be previous the put up, so I needed to look it in. For those who look it, it might go straight into the keeper’s arms, however this one went in. It was my day, by way of ending anyway.”

Parity lasted for about quarter-hour, then Vladimir Smicer restored Liverpool’s lead, however we’re not right here to speak about him. Over to Martin Tyler, on commentary obligation that day, to take you thru what occurred within the 73rd minute.

“(Olivier) Dacourt threading it by way of to Mark Viduka. Nonetheless Viduka. Nonetheless! Sensible! Merely sensible! An superior hat-trick from the Australian. Mark Viduka is a star at Elland Street!”

This was the objective that Viduka, in an interview with the Day by day Mail final yr, stated he “overcomplicated”. He reduce in as if to shoot together with his left foot, then swivelled onto his proper, accomplished a 360-degree spin round Patrik Berger earlier than slotting his end low into the underside nook. Berger had been so flummoxed attempting to cease his opponent that his knee had buckled, he was taken off on a stretcher and spent the following 5 months out.

Viduka applauds and encourages the followers as they chant his title. At this stage, Elland Street is pulsing in the way in which that solely occurs when a crew is on a roll, and the group thinks {that a} objective will certainly come if solely they shout just a bit bit louder. It’s after they cease being 35,000 people and grow to be one single, lengthy scream, desperately imploring their crew to attain.

They solely wanted to implore Viduka, although. Two minutes later, one other by way of ball from Dacourt put Viduka in on objective, he miscontrolled the agency go however that contact shifted it into the right place for him to clip the ball over the sprawling Westerveld. It was a superb end, much like the primary objective, however to poop the social gathering very barely, Viduka was a transparent half-a-yard offside. “Yeah, I’d be off celebrating at this time and it might be known as again, wouldn’t it?” Viduka instructed the Mail.

“There are particular gamers the place bodily you may’t address them,” Jamie Carragher, one of many Liverpool gamers given the thankless activity of marking Viduka that day, stated years later. “You had been by no means going get in entrance of him. You had been by no means going to knock him off the ball.”

“If we’d performed on for an additional half hour, he’d most likely have scored one other three,” says Matteo. “All the pieces was moving into. It’s simple to say now however there after which, you most likely knew that 20-odd years later, individuals would nonetheless discuss it. You don’t neglect ending like that.

“I feel he felt a bit dangerous about what he’d finished to their defence, chopping them up and tearing them to bits. You virtually really feel sorry for them ultimately.”

“V is for victory! V is for Viduka!” bellowed Tyler on the remaining whistle. This was the second Viduka arrived within the Premier League, when he actually received over the Leeds followers. He would go on to attain one other 62 instances for them earlier than leaving in 2004, after which he helped Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup remaining earlier than ending his profession at Newcastle.

However regardless of all of that, the sport that almost all will bear in mind him for was this slice of lunchtime brilliance. Think about if he’d truly performed effectively.

(Design: Sam Richardson for The Athletic/Images: Getty Photos)



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