As Mark Viduka prepares to start his first game of the season for Newcastle United, the Australian striker’s long-term future at the club has again been thrown into doubt.
Viduka, who is likely to play against Tottenham Hotspur at St James’ Park today, has recovered from an Achilles tendon injury that threatened his career at one stage earlier this year. Now manager Joe Kinnear expects Viduka, 33, to make a major impact on the second half of Newcastle’s season in the Premier League. But Kinnear, optimistic last month about his prospects of keeping Viduka next season, has admitted that the Australian international is not certain to be at the club after his current two-year contract expires at the end of June.
Viduka will not play enough matches this season to automatically trigger an extension to the deal he signed after leaving Middlesbrough last year and while Kinnear hopes to agree new contracts with Michael Owen, Steve Harper, Shola Ameobi and Nicky Butt in the near future, he fears Viduka may be the one who gets away, as the player contemplates a return to Australia.
“I would have to say it’s in the balance,” said Kinnear, who is likely to turn to Viduka if Obafemi Martins fails a fitness test on a groin strain.
Viduka’s touch and guile will be valuable against Tottenham, a club that will always be special to Kinnear, who played more than 200 games at full-back during a successful decade at White Hart Lane. Dave Mackay, the former Tottenham captain, has been invited to the match by Kinnear, whose management style owes much to ex-Spurs manager Bill Nicholson and his coach Eddie Bailey.
“I was very affected by them,” Kinnear said. “I look back sometimes at the way they handled things. There was a calmness about everything they did. They preached the same thing on a daily basis. Bill used to have a motto: ‘Train as you play.’ I’ve always used it because, if you don’t have the right frame of mind for training, it affects you on a match day. I’ve been brought up the old-fashioned way and I’m too old to change now.”
The same could be said of the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who would like to see Kinnear retain his job at Newcastle beyond the end of this season, when his current interim agreement is over.
“Joe’s done a great job there,” Redknapp said. “He’s another sensible guy who knows the game and I’d like to see him keep the job on a regular basis.”
Redknapp has been equally impressive since taking over at Tottenham, who have lost only twice in nine league games, reached the semi-final of the League Cup and progressed to the next stage of the UEFA Cup with their midweek draw against Spartak Moscow. Tottenham have been drawn against Shakhtar Donetsk in the first knock-out stage of the UEFA Cup but, with the two-legged tie not scheduled until February, Redknapp is demanding that this players focus totally on the Premier League.
“Doing well in the Premier League is the only thing I think about,” Redknapp said. “Getting league points over Christmas is going to be massive for us.”
Several players rested or ineligible for the tie against Spartak Moscow will return against Newcastle, although Darren Bent, Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric are doubts.