After playing a crucial part in three consecutive title winning seasons at Manchester United, as well as being named in the PFA Team of the Year in all of those campaigns, it is hard to imagine that a little over seven years ago Nemanja Vidic nearly turned his back on professional football.
The autumn of 2001 and the horrific and tragic events of the September 11th terrorist attacks in America provided a wake-up call to the world and will be forever remembered by all those who witnessed it. Vidic, however, will hold dark memories and thoughts from those days for very different reasons. On October 1st 2001 his best friend and team mate Vladamir Dimitrijevic collapsed and died in front of him during a Red Star Belgrade training session. The two had met during their time in the youth set-up at Red Star and had often spoken of their dream to go on and play for both the first team and the Serbian national side together. That dream was stolen from them though when Dimitrijevic, who had been earlier diagnosed with a heart condition, sadly passed away.
It was only the intervention of Zoran Filipovic, the Red Star coach at the time, which prevented Vidic from quitting the game.
Filipovic said: “Vlada was a very good young player and Vidic was a great friend to him. It really affected Vidic and he had a lot of problems. I spoke with him many times and helped him to recover. It was very difficult for him psychologically and for two or three months he was very depressed. He was away from football and struggled to cope.
I spoke with him many times. I had to look out for him before, during and after practice.”
Vidic would in future remember his friend by wearing a shirt emblazoned with his photo under his shirt for every game, revealing it when he scored and continues to this day to dedicate his career and achievements to him.
Before these events, the life of Nemanja Vidic and his eventual road to stardom began on 21st October 1981 when he was born in the small western Serbian town of Uzice, a town with not enough inhabitants to fill the capacity of Old Trafford. His father Dragoljub worked in a local copper factory whilst his mother, Zora, worked as a bank clerk.
In the early years most of his football tuition came from his elder brother Dusan, who was a talented striker at youth level and it is probably from him that he picked up his impressive eye for goal. At the age of eight he signed for his first team Jedinstvo Uzice where he played for four years before moving on to local rivals Sloboda Uzice, who were seen at the time as the bigger club and the better destination for talented youngsters. After impressing for local sides and creating a great reputation for himself in the youth ranks, Vidic was 14 years of age when he was first signed for a Professional club. Red Star Belgrade was his new home as he joined the team dubbed the Serbian Manchester United and the only side from their nation to be crowned both European and World champions after their European and Intercontinental successes back in 1991. At Red Star he spent four years in the academy before he was sent to Spartak Subotica on a season-long loan in a bid to gain some first team experience. Here he impressed making 27 appearances, scoring 6 goals in the process before returning to Red Star where his career really began to take off.
Overcoming the pain from the death of “Vlada”, Vidic became an integral part of their backline and he was quickly handed the captain’s armband.
In 2001/02 and his first full season for Red Star he helped them to the Former Republic of Yugoslavia/Serbia and Montenegro Cup, beating FK Startid 1-0 in the final.
This first success proved to be the springboard to an International call-up and on October 12th 2002 Vidic made his debut for Serbia and Montenegro against Italy in a Euro 2004 qualifier. He quickly made a place in the national teams defence his own as he became a regular name in both Dejan Savicevic and later llija Petkovic’s squad. One of the high points of the Serb’s career to date was his involvement in their qualification for the 2006 World Cup. Dubbed the “famous four”, the Serbia and Montenegro (before they later separated into two separate teams) defensive line conceded only one goal in the whole of their qualifying campaign as Vidic played alongside Ivica Dragutinovic, Goran Gavrancic and Mladen Krstajic in one of the meanest rearguards the nation has ever produced.
Vidic continued to achieve at club level culminating in a league and cup double with Red Star in what was to be his last season for the club after making a total of 67 appearances and 12 goals in his time there.
Spartak Moscow was his next destination as they moved to make him the most expensive defender in Russian Premier League history, signing for a record fee of around £4.0million in 2004. With the publicity of the national side’s defensive successes and with the Serb in such good form wherever he played, it proved to be only a matter of time before he was scouted by one of the top European clubs and playing amongst the best in the game at the highest level. His time at Moscow was to be short lived and after only one full season, in which Spartak finished runners-up to rivals CSKA, Manchester United announced his signature on Christmas Day 2005 for a fee of £7.0million, snatching him from under the noses of their bitter rivals Liverpool and Italian Serie A side Fiorentina, who had both led the race to sign him.
His debut came as a second half substitute against Blackburn at Old Trafford in the sides 2-1 Carling Cup semi-final victory. Vidic, along with fellow January recruit Patrice Evra, found it difficult at first to adjust to life in England and in coping with the high pace of the Premier League. In his first few games at the club he was short of form and was dropped after a noticeably poor performance in the 4-3 defeat to Blackburn at Ewood Park.
A month later though he tasted success in Cardiff, coming off the bench in the Carling Cup win over Wigan in what was to be Uniteds only trophy of the 2005/06 campaign as they finished runners-up to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea by eight points in the title race, having already crashed out of the Champions League in the first group stage at the hands of Benfica a month before his arrival.
After storming through qualification, Serbia and Montenegro’s performance in Germany did not live up to the expectation. Drawn in what was the group of death along with Argentina, Netherlands and Ivory Coast, they crashed out of the 2006 World Cup at the group stage losing all three games including a 6-0 defeat to the Argentines along the way. Having picked up a red card in the final game of qualification, Vidic faced a one match suspension and missed Serbia’s opening game against Netherlands. He then damaged cruciate ligaments in his knee during training forcing him to miss the other two group matches in what was a disappointing tournament for him.
He did have reason to celebrate that summer however, as on 17th July 2006 he married Ana Ivanovic (not the tennis player of the same name), with whom he now has a son named Luka.
Vidic worked hard to regain full fitness over the summer, impressing his new boss with his desire to train along the way. Sir Alex Ferguson said: “I watch Vidic in training and he’ll batter Louis Saha and then pick him up, as if to say, ‘This is my job, this is what I do’. I’ll be yelling from the touchline, ‘Watch the tackling, watch the tackling!’ and Vidic will shout, ‘Sorry, boss, sorry, boss’. But he’s not sorry at all, he just loves defending.”
Vidic missed the first six games of the 2006/07 campaign with the same injury he suffered in Germany, though when he returned he immediately began to form an impressive pairing with Rio Ferdinand. He scored his first United goal with what we would now associate as being a trademark Vidic goal, a high leap and bullet header from a set-piece. With United 1-0 down, his equaliser sparked a comeback and the team came from behind to win 3-1. Another important header against Benfica helped United to the knockout stages and in the process overcoming the side which had seen them off 12 months earlier. With the defence looking more assured than it had for years United managed to hold off the challenge of Chelsea and claimed the league title for the first time in four years in Vidic’s first full season and only narrowly missing out on a double as a Didier Drogba strike won the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. After overcoming Lille and Roma in the earlier rounds, United went to the San Siro with a narrow 3-2 lead from the first leg for the chance to play Liverpool in the Champions League Final in Athens. With a defence crisis, Sir Alex rushed Vidic back from a shoulder injury to play, and evidently short of match fitness he struggled as United were brushed aside 3-0 by AC Milan and dumped out of the competition.
13 months later those memories would be wiped away in the Luzhniki stadium as this time Manchester United went the distance and completed a famous Premier League and Champions League double in Moscow, as they overcame Chelsea 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in a pulsating encounter. Vidic won the man of the match award for his performance and the way in which he dealt with Drogba, who was sent off in extra-time for hitting out at the Serb. Vidic played 45 games in the 2007/08 season, scoring one goal along the way and was by now an integral part of the United side and considered one of the best centre halves in Europe along with Ferdinand.
Adding the World Club Cup medal to his collection, Vidic continued to perform consistently at the heart of the side, playing in all 14 of the record breaking consecutive clean sheets that they kept in the league on route to a third successive title. United could not go one better this time around and retain the Champions League though as they were outplayed and beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in the Olympic Stadium in Rome. At the time of writing he has played 166 times for Manchester United, scoring 12 goals, continuing to be linked with big money moves to Barcelona and AC Milan, as he is currently regarded as one of the hottest properties in Europe.
By: Joe McQuoid