Sun, Apr 19, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Shearer puts his faith in Viduka

AFP , NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND

Mark Viduka could remain at Newcastle United beyond the end of the season, manager Alan Shearer has revealed.

Australian international Viduka is set to be involved for the first time in seven weeks when Newcastle travel to Tottenham Hotspur today in search of crucial points to boost their Premier League survival bid. A string of injuries this season have restricted Viduka to just one start and five substitute appearances, well short of the number of games the 33-year-old requires to trigger a 12-month contract extension when his current deal expires in the summer.

It has been widely expected the former Melbourne Knights striker will see out the remainder of his career by returning to Australia in a bid to earn a place in the national squad for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.

But, intriguingly, interim manager Shearer, who is expected to be confirmed in the role long-term at the end of the season, has refused to rule out the possibility of Viduka staying at St James’ Park next season.

“That’s something we’d have to look at come the end of the season,” Shearer said. “I’ve said to Mark: ‘Look, we want you fit for the remaining games, then we’ll see what happens after that.’ It’s fair to say Mark probably wouldn’t have played again this season if things hadn’t changed, but just having him available to play some part is great. He was injured and not in a good condition, and probably on his way to Australia this summer because talks hadn’t happened between himself and the club. But it would have been a complete waste to just let him lie on the treatment table looking forward to going back to the beaches in Australia. That’s what his plans were this summer.”

Injury-prone Viduka has made just 20 Premier League starts since joining Newcastle from northeast neighbors Middlesbrough on a Bosman free transfer in June 2007.

He’s scored seven league goals in that time, the most recent more than 12 months ago when he returned from injury to help keep the club in the top flight.

The former Celtic forward, who earns a reputed £60,000 (US$89,000) a week, was jeered by Newcastle supporters who accused him of lacking commitment when limping out of the defeat at Wigan Athletic at the end of December — his only start so far this season.

Shearer is convinced that if he can overcome his fitness problems, the 43-times capped forward can play a significant role in helping Newcastle avoid relegation in their remaining six games.

“The big thing with Mark is getting him fit and keeping him fit,” Shearer said. “We have to try and manage that and treat him differently to the rest of the players in training. Everyone knows he’s got ability. If we can get something out of him between now and the end of the season it could be key. He’s shown a great attitude and pushed himself hard. He’s been in early every morning and does extra work every afternoon. It’s a fine balance of trying to get him fit, without pushing him too hard.”

“I asked Mark: ‘Do you want to help play a part in us trying to stay up?’ The answer was most definitely a ‘yes,’” Shearer said. “He’s shown a great appetite to get us out of trouble, which is what I’m looking for.”

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