By Nick Kituno.
It seems ages since Nemanja Vidić pulled on the Manchester United shirt. His last game this season coming in the UEFA Champions League against F.C. Basel in what would prove the final nail in the coffin for United’s title campaign saw him suffer knee ligament damage and rule him out for the rest of the season. Heart breaking to say least, coupled with the sheer austerity around bowing out from the European roundtable in the group stages for the first time since 2005 in a ghastly campaign that saw United finish bottom of the groups with only one win, ironically, against Benfica at home 2-1. Ryan Giggs and Ruud Van Nistelrooy the scorers at the time.
Vidić signed for Manchester United in the winter of 2005 from Russian outfit Spartak Moscow for a fee of £7million and eventually joined officially within the first week of January the next year. A young, promising defender at the age of 24, who had already built up a reputation in Russia as the most expensive defender in its league’s history (at the time) and the reputation he still holds now as a no-nonsense defender. He would only make a couple of cameo appearances in the side during cup games before the following season would really see him given a chance. It come to alight that Vidić’s transfer would see growing competition for Mikaël Silvestre at the back, as concerns started to grow whether or not he was capable enough of maintaining a first-team place. Though Silvestre signed a new contract the following year to see him stay until 2009, the Frenchman was slowly regressing from the first-team as he made only 25 appearances in the 2006-07 season.
Nevertheless it meant big news for Vidić. The 2006-07 season proved to be his first full season at Man United that saw the Old Trafford club win the league for the first time in four years and tie with Liverpool in having one of the strongest defences in the league, with Chelsea beating it with three goals less. The Serbian enjoyed a marvellous season at the back with Ferdinand to say the least and he scored his first goal for the club in just his fourth appearance of the season, away to Wigan Athletic at the-then JJB Stadium in a 3-1 victory for the visitors. The Serbian would score a further three times that season and cap off his thirty-seventh appearance away at Manchester City, where the Red Devils won by a goal to nil – courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty. Chelsea’s one all draw with Arsenal the following day meant United were crowned Premier League champions.
And then the chants came: “Nemanja woah, Nemanja woah, he comes from Serbia, he’ll f**king murder ya!” sing the Old Trafford faithful. From the lofts of the Stretford End, United fans sang songs about the beloved Nemanja. After a glimpse of what was to be seen in the first year, the second was even better. Another title, another strong claim for the league’s best defence and this time only conceding 22 goals as opposed to Chelsea’s 26, Liverpool’s 28 and Arsenal’s 31, United also went on to win the UEFA Champions League that year against the side who finished runners-up in the league that year. A vital penalty-shootout stop from Edwin van der Sar confirmed the Red Devils as champions on a rain-soaked pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium, and a return for the young boy who signed for the Moscovan side two years prior in coming to England. With his third club medal under his belt the individual accolades would follow.
Having twice been selected in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, it had become absolutely certain that Vidić had cemented a strong foundation in him being amongst one of the best defenders in the league, and perhaps the world. Whilst Piqué would be finding his feet back in La Liga for the club he left to go to England in the summer of the Champions League-winning season, in which he was still given a medal for since he appeared three times and scored twice, the fans’ affinity towards the aggressive and intimidating Serb would only grow bigger with time. Vidić was the epitome of Manchester United’s defensive characteristics.
But fast forward to the present, to the now situation where we don’t have him. It’s coming towards the end of the 2011-12 season and United do not have the Vidić that has terrorized strikers when they ran forward, the same strikers who would be charged down by a man who stands at six feet two with the intention to lunge in and still admirably win the ball, to the cheer of fans inside the OT but to the bewilderment of the opposition fans, the referee and the coach sitting directly parallel to Sir Alex. Those were and still are the tackles that Vidić can make, someone who was recently selected in FIFA’s FIFPro World Team of the Year alongside his former team-mate and inducted into FourFourTwo’s Top 10 Defenders of the Year, which he came top of. Him sitting on the sidelines and watching Ferdinand orchestrate the back without him is quite distressing at times – not because Ferdinand is a bad defender, he’s not – but because Vidic isn’t there. The pair may no longer be the fearsome duo of three, maybe four years ago, but they are still one of the best. I am sure that it is quite obvious most United fans would want Vidic back as much as I do, and whether he’d make wholesome difference entirely is debatable, but his return would be welcomed back with open arms as much as Tom Cleverley.
Nobody can really doubt that upon Vidić’s arrival he came with an attitude of ambition and desire to win, and not something that he just wanted to be part of a team that could win. The drive and determination which conveys the impression that is as natural to him as sliding in for the ball and winning it with superb timing is rarely seen in every defender, but the best must always have it. Vidić does. John Terry and Vincent Kompany are of similar styles, whether one lacks pace and the other lacks agility, it is the refusal to never lie down that makes them three of the best in recent years.
It has been said by Dennis Irwin himself that Vidić is “probably the best centre half there is” which will always come with criticism but isn’t far from the truth. This Serbian came to the Premier League, knew what he needed to do and has done it. Four times now with individual honours on the side. At Old Trafford, he came, he saw, he conquered, and at the age of 30, he still has a few more years in him before he will have to step down. I for one will always remember him as one of the best defenders we’ve had. Could we have another one like him? Unfortunately, I doubt it. This is just an article of appraisal for a true monster.
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