Born: 21 October 1981 in Uzice (Serbia)
Height: 1.88 m
Weight: 85 kg
Position: Central defender
Clubs: 1996-2001: Red Star Belgrade youth academy. 2001: Spartak Subotica (loan). 2001-2004: Red Star Belgrade. 2004-2005: Spartak Moscow. Since 2006: Manchester United. 22 senior appearances for Serbia.
Serbia’s answer to John Terry
Manchester United are very strong this season thanks to attacking players like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, but also because of their defence. There, Serbian international Nemanja Vidic is a key player.
For a foreigner playing football in the English Premier League, there can be fewer accolades more praise worthy than to be compared in style and substance to the captain of England. For Nemanja Vidic, a Serbian defender virtually unheard of in England before his arrival at Manchester United in January 2006, such comparisons underline the huge impact he has had at the club.
“Manchester United’s answer to Chelsea’s John Terry,” is the phrase now becoming beloved of some pundits when football talk turns to Vidic, while some others believe his arrival in the first team is the single most important factor behind United’s transformation in the 2006-07 season.
Vidic himself smiles with pleasure when asked about the praise that has been heaped on him but is careful to maintain that the whole team deserves equal credit. “It’s very good to hear that and if people are saying those things about me, it’s very pleasing,” he says in an interview, “but the whole team has played very well. Everyone seems to have given 10% more this year and we knew how important the season was for us.”
Bluntly speaking, Vidic’s success is partly down to the fact that, like Terry, he is not afraid to puts his head in where it hurts. His physical strength, while always important during his time in continental football, has really come into its own in the Premiership. He adds: “Everyone has their own quality, if you are physically strong in Europe you cannot use that quality a lot because the referees are quick to give you a foul. I began to play in a different way when I came here – and not just me: Patrice Evra arrived at the same time as me and I the first couple of games we didn’t look as strong as we look now. That was because we soon learned that you have to go 100% into every challenge if you want to win the ball; we have changed our game and as a result we have improved.”
A very bad moment
Settling down in Manchester has also helped. He married his girlfriend, Ana Ivanovic in July 2006 and the couple now has a baby son. Vidic, 25, may have established himself as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s stalwarts, yet 18 months ago, few, apart from devotees of eastern European football, would have been aware of the defender’s existence. The last few years, admits the player, have been a succession of dreams becoming reality.
As a boy, Vidic used to dream about one day playing for his beloved Star Belgrade, at the age of 15, he was admitted as a youth player and took his first steps on the road to the “Theatre of Dreams”, Old Trafford. His first taste of real life as a professional footballer came during a year-long spell on a loan at Spartak Subotica before Red Star noticed his talent and recalled him to Belgrade. Within a year, Vidic was made captain and captured the attention of Manchester United as he led Red Star to a league and cup double.
“I got in the first team, became captain of the club when I was 20 and started to play for the national team and everything started to go like I was in a dream,” he says. “ I heard at some game a scout from Manchester United had watched me but nothing happened and I went to Spartak Moscow and forgot all about it – it seemed my future was at another club. Then at the last minute when I was deciding where to go from there, Manchester United got in touch. I was a bit surprised, but of course it’s such a big club and anyone would want to play here.”
A case of fantasy becoming reality indeed, but while Vidic was at Red Star there intruded into his seemingly perfect existence an incident so tragic and shocking that it continues to influence his approach to life to this day. His best friend at the club was Vladimir Dimitrijevic, or Vlada as he was known. They have come up through the youth ranks together, had broken into the first team at the same time, and great things were predicted for both. Then one day during training, Vlada collapsed on the pitch and died from a heart attack – the sudden death syndrome that has claimed the life of a number of professional players in recent years, including Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foe.
“I want people to remember Vlada, I think about him a lot and it can help you in how you live your life,” says Vidic. “He wanted to be a footballer, to play for a big club and he had the quality to be a good player. He was so very young and it was a very bad moment in my life but you need to carry on – who knows what may happen tomorrow.”
No dreams, just ambitions
If that incident shattered the blissful innocence of his footballing life, an altogether more prosaic occurrence prevented Vidic from achieving many a player’s ambition of appearing at the FIFA World Cup TM finals. A red card in qualification kept him out of Serbia’s opening match against the Netherlands last year in Germany and then an injury picked up in training prevented him from appearing in the subsequent group games. The “famous four” defenders who had conceded just one goal in ten qualifying games had been broken up, and Serbia went out with Vidic not even enjoying a kick.
“The 2006 World Cup was a shame,” say s Vidic. “I had been looking forward to it so much. I was suspended for the first game because I had got a red card in a qualification match, and then I injured myself in training and I was out for three months and missed pre-season at Manchester United. There will be a chance for another World Cup, maybe even two chances, who knows. It remains my ambition; I want to win trophies with Manchester United, to get to the World Cup with Serbia – if we get to the World Cup final then I will finish my career! I do not have dreams about football any more – just ambitions.”