Australia coach Pim Verbeek has told veteran striker Mark Viduka "the door is open" for his return to the national team. Viduka has not played for the Socceroos since Verbeek took over as coach 18 months ago.
The burly striker has been dogged by injury in that time, but when he returned to health in May he knocked back a request from Verbeek to rejoin the squad for their final three 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers.
At that time Viduka said he wanted a break from the game after he was a part of Newcastle's relegation from the Barclays Premier League. Verbeek acceded to the request and after then guiding the Socceroos to next summer's FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa, question marks hung low over Viduka's international future.
The veteran striker's inability to find a new club after his Magpies contract ran out in the summer has hardly helped matters. However, speaking ahead of Australia's friendly international against the Republic of Ireland at Limerick tomorrow, Verbeek admitted he would still welcome the striker back, despite having never coached him.
"Mark is very important for the national team, however, saying that he has not once been in my selection," Verbeek said. "That is because of injuries not because I did not want him.
"I tried last June to get him into my selection but he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle. He was so disappointed with what happened with Newcastle so he said he didn't have the motivation to go to Qatar and play in 40 degrees and try to do it again."
Viduka has reportedly been in talks with Portsmouth to continue his career in England's top flight. Verbeek has previously been outspoken about the need for his players to ply their trade in Europe's top competitions if they want to be a part of his FIFA World Cup squad, and the Dutch tactician believes that is the main reason for Viduka's desire to remain in the Premier League.
"I think his only motivation to play football is to go to the World Cup," he said. "The door is open. It is not because he is Mark Viduka, but because he is a good player. He has ten months to show me he is good enough."
Australia begin their ten-month preparation for South Africa 2010 against the Republic at Thomond Park on Wednesday, the first time the Limerick venue, better known as the home of Munster Rugby, will hold a international football match. It is the first game for Australia since their final FIFA World Cup qualifier against Japan in June, which they won 2-1, and while Verbeek has named an experimental squad including four debutants, he will rely on his better-known players.
That means the likes of Premier League players Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer are set to start, although the coach said he would look to "protect" them with the new season just three days away. "I feel I must respect the players as well as their clubs," he said.
"I will look to pick my strongest selection so definitely the young players will not start. My experienced players I feel I must also protect with the season so close. I will give them a good chance to play, but maybe I will need to rest them at some point."