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Vidic at 40 – Man Utd’s “animated” winner who overcame Scholes suspicions

After a tough start to life at Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic became one of the club’s most important players as they won trophies at home and on the continent under Sir Alex Ferguson

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You probably remember Nemanja Vidic as the dominant defender who formed a title-winning partnership with Rio Ferdinand at Manchester United but he wasn’t always the physical centre-back he became.

Vidic was 24 years old when he joined United from Spartak Moscow for £7m midway through the 2005-06 season, easing his way into the side in his first half-season, but he soon grew into an undroppable figure at the back.

The Serbian international won the Premier League five times, with a Champions League title thrown in for good measure, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year on several occasions.

Team-mates and rivals alike have spoken of Vidic’s quality, marking him out as the kind of team-mate any player would want on their side, with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs among the Man Utd legends to sing his praises over the years.

To celebrate Nemanja Vidic’s 40th birthday on Thursday, Mirror Sport looks back at his trophy-laden career in the Premier League.



Nemanja Vidic made a huge impact in his 300 games for Manchester United




A challenging start

It took a while for Vidic to develop into the player we remember him as, with a 4-3 defeat at Blackburn Rovers showing how hard he would need to work – especially in a physical sense.

“There was nothing of him when he arrived,” Paul Scholes later recalled in his Independent column.

“He was skinny and relatively easy to push off the ball. Like Patrice [Evra, who joined in the same window], he took a battering in his first few weeks at the club – in training as well as matches.”

Vidic’s growth was a testament to the hard work put in by the player himself, with Scholes noting: “For the next year, every time I walked past the gym, I would see Nemanja in there lifting weights. He turned himself into a big, strong centre-half who was capable of knocking strikers out of the way.”









An unstoppable partnership

Vidic arrived at Old Trafford several years after Ferdinand, but the relationship between the defensive pair was a huge factor in United being able to reassert their domestic dominance.

The 2005-06 season was their third in a row without a league title, but with Vidic and Ferdinand giving next to nothing away, the Red Devils proceeded to win three in a row from 2007 to 2009, adding a League Cup, Champions League and Club World Cup for good measure.

When you listen to Ferdinand speak about his colleague, and the almost instinctive relationship they enjoyed, it becomes easy to see how they were able to form such a terrifying partnership at the back.

“We didn’t work on it in training, we could smell each other’s movement,” Ferdinand said.

“You just knew, it was instinct. I knew when he was going to go tight and I’d go round and cover.

“I knew when he was going to drop off, I’d push in. I knew when he was in a bit of trouble, I’d always hang back and be that safety net for him.

“He was the best partner and favourite partner I played with.”



The partnership between Vidic and Ferdinand was one of the Premier League’s greatest
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Image:

2013 Getty Images)




Was Nemanja Vidic the Premier League’s best ever centre-back? Have your say in the comments section

Bouncing back after Liverpool

There were some hiccups, as with any top player, and Manchester United fans may have nightmares of the day Vidic was terrorised by Fernando Torres in a home loss to Liverpool.

However, moments like that were so striking purely because they were so rare: when dominance is the norm, you were bound to notice on those occasions when he briefly became infallible.

Vidic might have the occasional bad day in the office, but he’d almost never have two bad days in a row, and even opposition players could only praise him.

It was Sir Alex Ferguson who best described the defender when he said “How many centre-halves can you name who actually like defending?

“Vidic liked it. He loved the challenge of sticking his head in there. You could tell that the thrill of contesting those 50-50 balls animated him.”







The Serbian star might easily have joined Liverpool rather than United, according to Jamie Carragher, and there are few bigger what-ifs in Premier League football.

“I’d have loved to have played alongside him and I’m sure we could have formed a solid partnership,” Carragher wrote in his Mail column, describing Vidic as “my type of defender”.

“He loves defending and putting his head in where it hurts. His arrival took Ferdinand’s performances up another level. They became the best defensive pairing in Europe.”

Indeed, Vidic’s reaction to that Liverpool game tells us just as much as his struggles on that afternoon.

United won six straight league games upon his return, as well as getting past Porto and Arsenal to reach the Champions League final for a second straight season.

Were it not for the presence of Lionel Messi, playing some of the best football of his young career, Vidic could well have helped United become the first club to ever successfully defend the trophy.



Nemanja Vidic bounced back brilliantly from a low moment against Liverpool
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Image:

AFP/Getty Images)




Vidic’s second act didn’t end there, either. After replacing Gary Neville as captain in 2010, he added two further league titles before leaving United in 2014.

His final game came just a few days after Ryan Giggs made his own Manchester United farewell, and Giggs – the caretaker-manager at the time – was one of the best men to have the final word on a man with whom he played on countless occasions.

The Welshman described Vidic as “probably the best defender I have ever played with,” which is high praise given the other contenders for that honour.

“Jaap Stam and Rio Ferdinand fall into the mix as well when i consider that statement, but Nemanja has been an immense player for United for so many years and he has enjoyed great success as well.”


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