Socceroos legend Mark Viduka has broken his longstanding media blackout to accuse former Australian teammates of undermining his captaincy and tearing the team apart.
In a revealing exclusive interview with ESPN, Viduka opened up on the Socceroos’ disastrous 2007 Asian Cup campaign – just one year after the incredible highs of the 2006 World Cup.
Having entered the tournament as favourites Australia was dumped out of their first-ever AFC continental tournament at the quarterfinals despite fielding a similar squad to Germany ‘06.
Now Viduka claims selfish teammates destroyed the side’s sense of unity – and cost Socceroos coach Graham Arnold his job.
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“I think some people came to that Asian Cup thinking more about themselves more than the national team,” Viduka told ESPN.
“Why? Because people who value themselves very highly and think more about their television rights and deals and all that than actually playing for their country. That was the main reason I stopped playing for the national team.”
“I think Lucas Neill came to that Asian Cup at that stage not in a good state of mind because of the fact that Graham Arnold had offered him the captaincy because he wasn’t sure I was coming to the Asian Cup or not.
“Once I was at the Asian Cup, either [Arnold] wasn’t brave enough to tell me that I wasn’t captain anymore, and I felt Lucas Neill was sulking the whole Asian Cup through the preparations for it and through the Asian Cup, and it affected other players.
“I think Lucas tried to undermine me. His priority was to be captain — more because of his other activities off the pitch rather than on the pitch stuff. That’s my opinion.”
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Viduka had never wanted the captaincy the same way he says other teammates did. It was thrust upon him by then-coach Gus Hiddink ahead of the 2006 World Cup.
“Guus came to me, and he said, ‘Look, I’d like you to be captain [permanently],’” Viduka says. “It’s a huge honour, and I’m not one of the guys whose dream is about being captain of anything, really.
“[Craig Moore] would have been the better person to do it, playing at the back and all that. But Guus had to make the call because he didn’t know if [Moore’s] injury would come good. I felt bad because he’s a good mate.
“It was actually a bit of a burden to me, but I’d never knock it back.”
A year later, a limp Asian Cup campaign ended with defeat to Japan on penalties, and Viduka soon retired from international duty. It’s a decision he says he doesn’t regret.
“Do I regret stopping? No.
“Because my problem was that my generation of players that I grew up with were a different breed to the new generation, and to be the honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the new generation of players.
“A lot of them were more interested in how many deals they were doing on the side, through sponsorship and getting their heads on the television, than actually playing for the national team.”