Nemanja Vidic didn’t take long to become a popular figure amongst Manchester United fans thanks to his no-nonsense approach to the game. He loved putting his foot in, was no stranger to a “cheeky” elbow and shirt pull and would stand toe to toe with any opposition player. He was nails and we loved him for it.
“He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*ckin murder ya” United fans sing after he’s made a fantastic tackle, put a player in the stands with the ball, had a telling off from the referee, as well as following a goal, of which he has 20.
“When you are playing football, it’s important – you want fans to love you because you play football for the fans,” Vidic has said. “When they are signing the song in the game, you feel very excited, and you do even more than you really can.”
David Gill wrapped up the Vidic signing on Christmas Day 2005 with the defender then joining the club from Spartak Moscow in January 2006. He was an absolute bargain. We paid £7m for him the same year that Chelsea paid £9m for Khalid Boulahrouz, who was awful.
After a few early wobbles, none as worrying as Patrice Evra who also joined during that transfer window, Vidic started to doubt whether he was at the right club. Thankfully, Ferguson managed to convince him that he was, and began to settle in nicely.
United won the League Cup less than two months after he joined. Ferguson subbed him on with less than ten minutes remaining to give him a taste of the glory.
The following season we won the league back and Vidic was voted in to the PFA Team of the Season by his peers, the first of three consecutive seasons he was recognised as one of the two best central defenders in the league, before winning it again in 2011. He was also named the Premier League Player of the Year twice, in 2009 and in 2011, becoming the first defender ever to do so, and one of three players (alongside Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo) to have won it twice.
His best moment at the club, as it will be for many who have spent the past ten years at United, was when we won the European Cup in 2008. Having formed the foundation for us that season, playing in 45 games in all competitions at the back, he deserves his fair share of the credit for what is the second best season in the club’s history.
Out of interest, Vidic had himself down as ninth on the list to take a penalty against Chelsea. After Ryan Giggs scored his, Rio was set to take the next one if Anelka scored, and then it would have been Vidic’s turn. Thankfully, it never came to that! It’s also nice to remember that it was Vidic’s face that Drogba slapped in extra time, meaning that John Terry took Chelsea’s 5th penalty instead of their striker, who watched the penalty shoot-out from the dressing room after being sent off.
Whilst Moscow was the peak, his lowest point came in our 4-1 defeat to Liverpool during the 2008-2009 season, where it looked as though we were ready to give away the title to Rafa Benitez’s team. Fernando Torres ran Vidic ragged, before he got sent off. Liverpool scored from the resulting free kick, to make it 3-1, before the humiliating fourth went in.
Still, as disappointing as that day was, United and Vidic had the last laugh, when at the end of that season, with United winning the record-equalling 18th title, Vidic was voted Player of the Season by both the fans and his team mates.
“I am honoured,” Vidic said. “It is amazing to win these awards, especially when I consider the quality of the players I play alongside every day. I would like to say thank you to the fans and to my team-mates. I enjoy being here every day and playing with these players and working with the coaches. I’m very happy here at United. It’s a great night for me. It has been a really good year. I am surprised I got it but I have really enjoyed it. To be honest I don’t have so many individual awards. That’s why I am a bit confused and my speech is not the best. Next time my speech will be a bit better.”
During the 2009-2010 season, it was more or less accepted by most United fans that Vidic would be leaving at the end of the season for Spain. The player behaved well, never hinting about wanting out, but all the talk behind the scenes was that Vidic was ready to move on. After warming up for the game against Leeds in the Cup, Ferguson claimed Vidic didn’t play because of an injury, but the press suggested that he had refused to play. He repeatedly stated that he was going to see out his current deal, which meant he would be leaving the club on a free when he was 30 if he didn’t sign an extension. Whilst the coverage didn’t quite match that of Ronaldo in his final season at the club, I think it’s easy to forget just how regularly rumours circulated that year for Vidic.
When there was an announcement made by the club about the player at the end of July, fans would have been prepared to hear the news that Vidic was leaving. United were on their pre-season tour in America and following United’s win in Philadelphia, Sir Alex Ferguson was very non-committal when asked about Vidic’s future, saying: “I can’t clarify it at all” when asked about speculation about him leaving. When pressed and asked whether the Serb would play for the Manchester team this season, Ferguson replied: “I believe so.”
However, the announcement made by David Gill confirmed that a new four-year-deal had been agreed.
“I don’t know why people think it was a difficult decision,” said Vidic afterwards. “I always said I am happy here. I never spoke about my future. I know there was all this speculation but I never said I wanted to go. There was nothing new. I am very happy to be here.”
Vidic got a massive new contract, making him one of the top earners at the club, and was also given the captaincy to sweeten the deal. The season before he had been fourth in pecking order, behind Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. The decision wasn’t a totally unexpected one, but it appeared to be driven by the club’s desire to keep him.
At the start of the season, Ferguson explained the decision to make Vidic captain.
“The subject of picking the captain this year was pretty straight forward,” Ferguson said. “Over the past few years Gary Neville has been club captain and team captain, but as we know, Gary’s been subjected to an incredible amount of injuries, so the inconsistency of Gary in the team made us have to look elsewhere. So when you go to pick a captain you want to pick a captain who is going to be playing every week. Defenders normally come in to that, far easier than the likes of Darren Fletcher. Because we have so many selections in midfield, from time to time we change that around. Paul Scholes doesn’t want to be captain, then you’ve got Darren Fletcher who has leadership qualities of course, but we change the midfield so many times. So therefore I chose Nemanja Vidic, who signed a new contract. He’s going to be our most consistent player. If he’s fit, he’ll always play.”
Still, despite signing a new contract, he was still regularly being linked with a move away from the club, but his agent, Silvano Martina, deserves a lot of credit for always moving to dismiss the rumours. In an era when agents are quite happy to let the papers talk about prospective new clubs for their players, to put pressure on the current club to come up with the goods in the form of a new contract, Martina has always been very respectful of United.
“Vidic is a player that everyone wants,” Martina said in June 2011. “I talked to him about a hypothetical transfer and he said ‘I am the captain of Manchester United, I’ve won almost everything. ‘Why should I go to Italy right now that Italian football is going through such a turbulent moment?’. This response removes any doubt about his future – he stays where he is.”
Vidic retired from International duty in October 2011 to prolong his career with the club. That’s the United way, and captain Vidic was more than happy to comply.
Vidic has become more injury prone over the past few years but an injury that really could have been the end of him was when he did his cruciate in December 2011. United lost to FC Basel and therefore didn’t make it out of the groups, but the news about Vidic’s injury was probably as shocking for United fans. You could say goodbye to the Champions League, even if we had played in the final just a few months earlier, but saying farewell to Vidic for the rest of the season was gutting. Plenty of reds wrote off our title challenge there and then. With hindsight, and United going on to lose the title on goal difference, it’s hard to argue that we wouldn’t have won the league, that Vidic isn’t worth at least one point a season, had he not been injured.
When fit, Vidic is still up there with the best, but he has struggled to maintain his fitness over the course of a whole season. Last season he played in just 19 games and the year before that it was 6. He’s already missed 10 league games this season.
Still, at the start of this season, it looked that despite his injury woes, he was determined to stay at United.
“I believe Man United is the biggest club in the world and I think there’s no point to go anywhere else,” Vidic said. “I have to say the last four years I was in that position, people were talking about me leaving the club. I’m still here and I’m enjoying playing for this club. Nothing has changed.”
Something has changed since then though, unless Vidic was just trying to stay positive at the start of the season with a new manager, because he wants to leave now.
“It’s the last year of my contract and I have had eight wonderful years here,” he said this week. “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. I’m not considering staying in England as the only club I ever wanted to play for here is Manchester United and I was lucky enough to be part of this club for so many years. I’ve got a few options to move on and I will choose the right one for me and for my family. I am now going to focus all my efforts on playing for Manchester United and do the best I can for the team until the end of the season. I hope this stops any further speculation about my future.”
Some people have questioned the timing of this statement, given it’s half way through the season, and criticised Vidic for that. Truth be told, if he’s made this statement through ManUtd.com, it’s because the club have, at the least, agreed now it’s the right time, or have instructed it to happen now.
Other people have criticised him for leaving the club when we’re obviously in such a difficult position and suggest that, as captain, he should stick around the guide us through it. Now, whilst this is a romantic view of what football could be like, it’s purely fantasy. Vidic has a few months remaining on his contract and he’s on his way to 33. The best he could expect from United is a one-year-extension and a drop in salary. He could pick up an injury next season that damages him almost beyond repair, and then what? You can’t berate a player for wanting job security, so whilst I agree with United’s stance on contracts for players over 30, I also totally respect any player who decides they need more than that for themselves and their family.
Vidic has been a fantastic player for us and a good captain, who has given the best years of his career to us, winning five league titles, one European Cup, three League Cups, and one FIFA World Club Cup in seven and a half seasons. He is on the decline though and that is why the decision to leave is the right for the club and player.
All the best, Vida.