Thumping headers. Crunching tackles. Bleeding nose. Say Nemanja Vidic and these three images strike your mind. Dominant in the air and a real battler on the ground, he reminds you of a Russian commander who has so many battle-scars on his body that he no longer cares whether he lives or dies whenever he goes into another devastatingly crushing tackle.
One look at him and the opponent forward knew that this Serbian monster can tear him apart any time of the day. Nemanja Vidic has been a war veteran in a modern warfare called football. A legendary defender of a dying and rare breed who would go into a match as a soldier goes into a war, prepared to die. His toe-breaking tackles were analogous to a German panzer on a “blitzkrieg” and his air-superiority reminded his fans of the Luftwaffe on a rampage. Yet, for all his monstrosity and ferocity, he was exceptionally elegant and composed as well.
Signed by Spartak Moscow from Red Star Belgrade in 2004, the unknown Serbian quickly made a reputation among the Russian footballing circles as a no-nonsense defender. It was not long that a scout from Old Trafford came knocking for the Serbian defender. However, Nemanja Vidic’s story is not as as romantic as it seems.
Born to a now-retired copper factory worker and a bank clerk, Vida, he hails from a war-stricken state of Uzice, which was part of an undivided Yugoslavia before the Balkan conflict of 1989. He signed for his local side Jedinstvo Uzice along with his elder brother and progressed quickly through the ranks to move to Sloboda Uzice at 12 years of age.
The wars in his land of birth, however, threatened not only his footballing talent but also his life. His family lived in constant fear of being bombed and Vidic, being a young teenager, faced the possibility of joining the war. But it turned out to be his football skills that prevented him from being drafted as footballers and students were not compelled to go to battle.
The Early Years and Russia Calling
Starting his career as a youth recruit with Red Stars as a 15-year-old, Vidic later went on to captain this Belgrade side for nearly three seasons. He scored 12 goals in 67 matches and ended his Red Star career on a high note by leading the club to a domestic double.
He won the 2004 Serbia and Montenegro League and Serbia and Montenegro Cup trophies with Red Star and, in July 2004, joined Russian Premier League side Spartak Moscow. The details of the deal were not revealed but it was reported that Vidic became the most expensive defender in the Russian Premier League.
Manchester United: The Dream Begins
25th December 2005. It was Christmas Day when Manchester United signed the powerful defender from Spartak Moscow for a bargain price of £7 million.
It was a typical Sir Alex Ferguson hijack of sorts as Manchester United won the transfer battle of Nemanja Vidic against Fiorentina in the last moments.
He was assigned the #15 jersey and made his debut for United as a substitute for Ruud van Nistelrooy in the dying minutes of the 2-1 League Cup semi-final win against Blackburn Rovers. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Living the Dream
Nemanja Vidic initially struggled to cope with life in the Premier League, but once he got his foot in, he never looked back. Forming one of the most deadly defensive partnerships in the world with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic went on to become one of the most colossal figures in the United back four.
Winning the league in 2006-07, he became a regular first team player and with his commitment seen, soon got the honour of his name being chanted by the 76,000 Old Trafford faithful.
Internationally, his record was impeccable as he was one of the constituents of the “Famous Four” Serbian defense that conceded only 1 goal in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign.
He was at his peak in the 2007-08 season, when alongside Ferdinand, he provided the pillar on which Manchester United went on to win the Premier League and Champions League.
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In 2008-09 season, he emerged as the leader of the defense. He started every match in the domestic league and helped United go on a run of 14 consecutive clean sheets in Premier League matches.
It was a period when few strikers could get past him on the pitch and even fewer could do so in the air. The Serb’s mixture of intensity and calm assurance combined with unerringly consistent performances.
In the summer of 2010, amid rumors that linked him with an impending move to either Real Madrid or A.C. Milan, Vidic penned down another 4-year-contract with Manchester United. His loyalty and commitment to the club was rewarded with the captain’s arm-band by Sir Alex Ferguson.
That season also saw Vidic quit international football, following criticism from supporters who questioned his commitment for Serbia. The once “Mountain range” at the back was beginning to crumble.
He had a great start to his captaincy campaign, as he instilled a great deal of confidence in a young team. After a successful year as United captain, he was beset by a career-threatening injury in December 2011.
During a match against Basel, he twisted his knee and ruptured his cruciate ligament and was sidelined for eight months. Even his return to top level football was short-lived as he again injured the same knee, requiring an operation that ruled him out for another three months.
Between 2011 to 2013, the once unflappable United captain, represented United just 33 times. Vidic, despite coming under intense scrutiny, clawed his way back into the starting XI.
The Dream Ends
On 7 February 2014, Vidic announced that he would be leaving Manchester United at the end of the 2013–14 season.
“I’m not considering staying in England as the only club I ever wanted to play for here is Manchester United,” he said.
He played his last home match for Manchester United on 6 May, 2014, against Hull City, in which he received three standing ovations: one during a pre-match presentation for him by Sir Bobby Charlton, the second when he came on as a substitute for Phil Jones, and the third for his first touch of the game.
He now enjoys a cult status among the United faithful, and is often compared to former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce, for having similar playing attributes. A true warrior of the game, Nemanja Vidic epitomized everything a Manchester United player should be.
The Old Trafford gladiator, twice winner of Premier League player of the season, was given a rousing reception as he walked his way out of Old Trafford to Inter Milan.
The warrior is long gone. Only his scourge remains.