By Lee Savery.
5th January 2006. Manchester United agreed a fee with Spartak Moscow of around £7 million for the signing of a, then unknown, Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic. A target the club had been interested in since 2003. He made his début a few weeks later at Ewood Park in the Carling Cup Semi-final second leg against Blackburn Rovers as a late substitute for Ruud Van Nistelrooy. His first half season at United was not a memorable one. A few shaky performances left some doubting whether he could actually make it in the English game.
Four seasons, many clean sheets, countless bruises left on opposition strikers, 17 goals and eight trophies later and any doubts were extinguished. Vidic became one of United’s key players while forging a formidable defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand that kept the world’s best strikers at bay. Vidic has shown he has great durability, which was proven most famously when he was the one defender that started every game during Man United’s record breaking run of 14 consecutive clean sheets in Premier League matches, a remarkable statistic considering the defensive injury crisis at the time. In that time he was named the Barclays Player of the Season, Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (both 2008-09) and also named in the FIFPro World XI (also 08-09) and has been named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in three consecutive seasons (06-07, 07-08, 08-09). He was now fully in the hearts of United fans everywhere.
Now in his fifth full season, Vidic continues to be rock at the heart of the defence. He was named as the new “team captain” after captaining the side for the first five games of this season. With Gary Neville edging closer to the end of his career and Rio Ferdinand’s ongoing injury problems, Sir Alex was looking for someone who would be regularly in the team to lead. Vidic was always going to be that man. His commitment to the team proven ever more so by the new contract he signed on 20th August, ending all the nonsense speculation he (or his wife) wasn’t happy in England. Now, with Gary Neville’s retirement, he is the Club Captain outright.
Has the captain’s armband hampered his performances? Not a chance! His performances are as strong and consistent as always. It is hard to differentiate his seasons due to his high level of performance each year but this season has to be up there as one of his best. Continuing his partnership with Ferdinand and also forging a new one with summer signing Chris Smalling, he has been pivotal in the team only conceding nine league goals at home and having the best defence in the Champions League with just three goals conceded in the competition so far. His performances in both legs of the quarter-final, against Chelsea, were a perfect example of world class defending at the highest level. Vidic’s excellent season has been recognised by his fellow professionals having been nominated for the PFA Player of the Year and named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for the fourth time.
Vidic has also returned to his goalscoring ways with a return of four goals including a stunning strike from inside the penalty area in a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in February. It will be the first game against Villa this season that will be in my memory longer. 2-1 down with five minutes to go on what was turning into a bad afternoon for United, Vidic scored a diving header to rescue a point. For me that was a “captain’s goal”, a goal only a captain would score when his team need it most. This game wasn’t a key game in the grand scheme of things but the desire he showed to get on the end of that ball was outstanding. I do have a feeling Vidic may come up with a goal just like it, in a big game, before the season ends.
With the disappointment of the loss to Manchester City on Saturday, Vidic was the first player to speak publicly to say that he wanted a response against Newcastle on Tuesday night. A few times this season he been the one to speak first demanding better performances from next games. That is a captain. During matches, every time Vidic makes an excellent clearance or a great tackle, this gets the players and crowd going. Putting 100% into ever match, that is a captain. A man who enjoys a cult status amongst the United faithful and understands what we want from each match. That is a captain.
As a captain, he has been a definite leader and example to the squad in a squad full of leaders and examples. A squad containing; Giggs, Scholes, Van der sar, Rooney, Ferdinand is going to have its strong characters. Sir Alex was looking for someone who would be in the team always. Vidic IS that man and will be for the next four years and maybe beyond. Speaking to the Sunday Mirror he said “Being captain of United is a big honour and I am really enjoying the role […] I’m definitely here for the rest of my career now.” [i]Let’s hope there is plenty of silverware for him to lift during the rest of his career.
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[i]Vidic quote – Vidic – United for life