Nemanja Vidic arrived at Manchester United from Spartak Moscow in January 2006 in the same transfer window as a man he would go on to play the majority of his games in a red shirt alongside in Patrice Evra. Quite possibly one of the Red Devils’ greatest ever signings, the central defender will soon depart for Inter Milan having devoted his peak playing years to the Old Trafford outfit. A towering, uncompromising and imposing centre half, the Serbian succeeded Gary Neville as United’s club captain in 2010/11, and despite regrettable injuries sidelining the Red’s no.15 for a few sustained periods throughout his stay, Vidic remains a colossal presence who will be remembered fondly.
Having arrived from a Russian league with a vastly different calendar, the man from Serbia had not played for 2 months before he made his debut at home to Blackburn Rovers on the 25th January 2006, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the somewhat erratic and unconvincing start to Nemanja’s United career. Nevertheless, the defender soon found his feet and has gone on to make 291 appearances for the club to date, with perhaps a few more to come.
A few dodgy performances (particularly at the hands of an excellent Fernando Torres) and red cards aside, ‘Vida’ has portrayed a combative and monumental figure at the heart of United’s spine for the best part of a decade. And despite a few ill-timed injuries, will leave with a plethora of career highlights with the Red Devils.
Vidic was a mainstay at the heart of the United side which won an historic Premier League and Champions League double in 2007/08, a side which then went on to lift the FIFA Club World Cup in the following season. The tenacious Serb also played an integral role in a record breaking 1,311 minutes without conceding for United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar during the winter of the 2008/09 season.
Unfortunate injuries followed but Nemanja came back stronger in 2010/11, guiding United to their 19th league title and claiming the Barclays Player of the Season award. Futhermore, the defender’s class and humility was personified when he stepped aside to allow the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson to the lift trophy of United’s 20th league triumph in 2012/13.
Vidic will best be remembered for his aerial dominance, his fight and his competitive attitude, but perhaps most of all, for his partnership with Rio Ferdinand, one which may arguably go down as the best in the club’s history. Nemanja’s desire to fight for every ball and to step out and face challenges head on was often perfectly complimented by Rio’s calm and cultured nature. While both in their prime, it was formidable partnership littered with pace married with combat, and one that will be hard to replicate in the new era ahead for Moyes’ men.
At 32, ‘Vida’ will move on to pastures new in Italy, a league in which the slower tempo may suit his game in what will be his twilight years. But on his decision to leave, it is clear that Manchester United will always remain a fond memory in the Serbian’s heart, he had this to say:
“My time at this great club will always rank as the best years of my career”.
“I never could have imagined winning 15 trophies and I will certainly never forget that fantastic night in Moscow, memories that will live with me and the fans forever. However, I have decided that I will move on at the end of this season. I want to challenge myself again and try to make the best of myself in the coming years”.
The decision has been described as a “mutual” one by the club and whether that is the truth or merely a PR statement considering the defender had been allowed to run down his contract remains to be seen. It is well documented that one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest regrets was selling Jaap Stam too soon, and it is hoped that losing Vidic will not wield similar regret.
One thing is certain though, that at 32, with a lack of pace only likely to further deteriorate, young prospects in the position deserving of their chance and a much mooted ‘revolution’ expected to take place in the summer, now is perhaps the best time for United’s captain to depart.
Whether, having declared his departure, Vidic remains a part of Moyes’ first team plans will be an interesting question in the final few games of the campaign. The colossus still undoubtedly has a lot to offer and in the few performances since has demonstrated that his attitude can certainly not be questioned.
There are arguments that, despite injuries, he still very much possesses the quality too. Vidic still boasts a 65% success rate in Aerial duels in the league and averages 13 defensive actions a game this season. More pertinently though, his quality and experience in Europe is unrivalled (a tackle success rate of 71% and winning 21 of 25 headers so far this campaign) and could prove invaluable if United are to recover from the farcical performance away at Olympiakos.
Nevertheless, with the Serbian destined for Italy, the club may be best served persisting with those who will hopefully be at the club for years to come, and in Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans, David Moyes has some real quality and potential at his disposal.
With Rio Ferdinand also likely to depart in the summer, now may be the time for these three to step up to the plate and make their mark on the first team. Jonny Evans has been regarded by many as United’s best centre half for a couple of seasons now and continues to show maturity, whilst both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have demonstrated their potential on numerous occasions.
In the modern game, a crop of four centre backs is generally considered ideal for a squad wishing to compete on multiple fronts, and in that sense it is likely that Moyes will look to bring in an experienced performer to supplement the youthful potential within his squad in the summer.
The right man to bring in may very much depend on Moyes’ vision for the club. The likes of Hummels, Benatia, Mangala and even the young Matthias Ginter have all been mooted as possible targets and the direction taken in the summer may well be an early indication as to Moyes’ plans and vision.
In truth, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones still having youth on their side, an experienced defender may well prove invaluable in terms of the balance of the squad as opposed to unproven potential. But more importantly, the playing style and attributes of the defender brought in must suit the way in which Moyes wishes to play, and pace is an interesting issue in this regard.
As demonstrated often by John Terry, a lack of pace in certain systems is not necessarily an issue. Terry was dropped by Benitez in a more expansive system playing a higher defensive line, yet has once more looked superb in a deeper, counter-attacking system under Jose Mourinho. In this sense, if Moyes does wish to pursue the narrow 4-2-3-1 which appears to be slowly materialising, raw natural pace may be a necessity in order to provide cover to facilitate a system predicated on a higher defensive line, with full-backs providing the attacking width.
With that said, the athletic Mangala (although reportedly in high demand) may prove the best option and may further shed light on the thinking behind Vidic’s departure from the club’s perspective. Nemanja will leave a popular servant who has delivered so much for the club, but it may just be the right time to move on for all concerned. Having devoted the entirety of his prime to Manchester United, it is hoped that most would wish the Serbian defender every success in the final years of his career.
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