Nostalgia

Nemanja Vidić – The Defender Who “Scared Centre-Forwards to Death!”

Credit: John Peters / Getty Images

This quote was offered up by long-time Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick but, in fairness, given the reputation of the teak-tough defender, who once declared to manager Sir Alex Ferguson that he may need to leave the club to fight for his country in Kosovo, it could have been said by any number of players – friend and foe alike.

After beginning his career in youth football in his native Serbia, Vidić signed professionally for Red Star Belgrade in 2000. He would stay with the club for four years, encompassing a brief period out on loan. Experiencing domestic success and ascending to the captaincy of the club, he would lead them to a league and cup ‘double’ in his final term, before moving to Spartak Moscow for a further two seasons, before being taken to Manchester United.

It may come as little surprise to hear that the fee paid for the transfer by the Moscow club remains a matter for conjecture, with no official figures released from either end of the transaction. It was, however, widely acknowledged to represent a record amount paid for a defender being brought into the Russian league.

Speculation suggests that even before Vidić had moved to Russia, Sir Alex Ferguson’s scouting network had already identified him as a possible recruit for the Old Trafford squad, and on 25 December 2005, Manchester United concluded a deal with Spartak to bring the Serb to England in exchange for £7 million. It was a Christmas gift par excellence for the Stretford End faithful, and over the following eight and a half seasons, Vidić delivered on every single penny of the fee expended on him.

The Premier League has a history of centre-back partnerships that have dominated the game over the years. Arsenal had Tony Adams, alongside Steve Bould, and then Martin Keown. At Chelsea, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were the backbone upon which José Mourinho built his first dominant Stamford Bridge team, and at the dawn of the new league structure, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister’s ‘Dolly and Daisy’ duet set the tone for a United decade or so of dominance. Others would follow in their wake.

The likes of David May and Ronny Johnsen among a plethora of others deserve honourable mentions in United red, but perhaps the most enduring and successful of all of those partnerships was forged when the ever-astute Ferguson paired Vidić with Rio Ferdinand. As Danny Higginbottom once remarked. “Vidic and Ferdinand were without question one of the best centre-back partnerships ever to play in this country.” It would be difficult to find any number who would argue with that.

His teammate and partner at the heart of the United backline may well be the most qualified of all observers to comment on the merits of Vidić. His robust approach and bravery were unquestionable but sometimes disguised by his fearless approach, was a more than decent ability on the ball. “He became a defender that was feared. He could fight with the most physical, he crunched into tackles, he attacked the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen. But as he will tell you with a smile, he could also play with the ball too, which made him complete and a great defender,” Ferdinand would confirm. “Because he was so good in the aggressive/attacking the ball areas people probably looked over his ability with the ball to his annoyance!” Making Vidić annoyed was perhaps not wise either, given that he was the sort of defender that no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of.

With such a partnership being a mere part of the all-conquering Manchester United team under Ferguson, there’s little surprise that whilst a part of the Red Devils, Vidić would hoover up accolades and honours a-plenty, both as part of United and individually.

It’s perhaps interesting to note as a strange quirk of fate, that Vidić would never collect an FA Cup Winner’s medal, but such absence was more than compensated for by the glory achieved in other competitions. Five Premier League titles and three League Cup victories are an outstanding domestic haul. Throw in the 2007-08 Champions League title when, back in Moscow, Vidić and his teammates denied the dreams of Roman Abramovich of lifting the continent’s premier club trophy with a penalty shoot-out victory on a sodden pitch, and the FIFA World Club Cup triumph in Yokohama’s International Stadium the following December and the set of medals is all but complete.

Such success, of course, is bound to bring recognition of individual worth and that acclaim was not slow in coming. Vidić was included in the FIFA FIFPro World XI teams of 2009 and 2011, as well of those of PFA Premier League selection in 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11. Premier League Player of the Year awards were won in 2008–09 and 2010–11. It all speaks of a period of dominance, as Vidić became one of the great defenders of the modern era.

In 2014, with his contract coming to a close, Inter Milan announced an agreement had been concluded for Vidić to join them in the summer. A statement from the player, earlier in the year, suggesting such a move was on the cards had both pre-warned and reassured the United fans. “I’m not considering staying in England as the only club I ever wanted to play for here is Manchester United.” It would surely have been hard for any follower of the Old Trafford club to contemplate a player so adored turning out for another club in opposition to United. Much as with Terry, Adams and Bruce, those things are not supposed to happen, and rarely do. It would be a brief and less than wholly fulfilling time at the San Siro for Vidić however, and early in 2016, his contract was ended by mutual consent. He would retire from the game a few days later.

It’s perhaps worth noting that when citing the relationship that Vidić established with Ferdinand, there’s often a tendency to look upon the Serb as the Terry, Adams and Bruce elements of those centre-back pairings described earlier. Such being that these are the tacklers, the headers of the ball, the men who throw themselves in front of opposition shots, with no care for their own well-being; placing the fortunes of the team at the highest levels of priority. As with those other players though, such reductionism is surely folly. Sheer bravery and dedication would be insufficient to reach such heights. Nemanja Vidić had such things in more than generous amounts. He possessed so many other qualities as well, and of such combinations of things are legends born.

About the author

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Gary Thacker

Now living in Spain, Gary is the author of two books about football and writes for a number of high profile magazines and websites. He also appears regularly on podcast and had worked for BBC Radio and talkSPORT. In 2017, he was shortlisted for the FSF 'Blogger of the year' award.

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