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The Serbian defender and club captain made his comeback in the 0-0 draw with Valerenga on Sunday and could make the difference in the Red Devils' quest to reclaim the title

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By Oliver Platt

It is easy to forget, amid the clamour for new signings at Manchester United, the personnel who could make an impact at Old Trafford from within.

Having made just six Premier League appearances during the 2011-12 campaign, the Red Devils welcomed their captain, the 2010-11 top flight’s player of the season, back into the line-up in their latest pre-season friendly against Valerenga.

Nemanja Vidic was sorely missed. Jonny Evans proved an able deputy, but the Northern Ireland international has some way to go before he can command the same status and influence as his Serbian team-mate.

Rio Ferdinand, of course, is a vastly experienced centre-back, as good as any in the world in his prime, who has successfully adapted his game having initially struggled following the flurry of injuries that seemed to affect the athleticism and pace he once boasted. He is, however, three years older than Vidic, the undisputed leader of the United back four, and will be as happy as anyone to see his old partner return.
VIVA LA VIDA

 MAN UTD'S 11-12 RECORD WITH VIDIC
GAMES PLAYED
WON
DRAWN
LOST
WIN PERCENTAGE
10
8
1
1
80%

 MAN UTD'S 11-12 RECORD WITHOUT VIDIC
GAMES PLAYED
WON
DRAWN
LOST
WIN PERCENTAGE
44
27
8
9
61%

It must have been difficult for the 30-year-old to watch the man who can conceivably be labelled his direct counterpart, Vincent Kompany, produce a series of inspirational performances to lead Manchester City to the Premier League title.

Paul Scholes returned from retirement to drag United back to the summit of the table; Vidic's comeback might have helped to keep them there.

There are specific moments he could look back on and wonder 'what if?' Surely, Everton would not have been allowed to score two goals in the final seven minutes at Old Trafford had Vidic been on the pitch. Perhaps he would have kept Kompany in his sights, as Chris Smalling failed to do so, when the City skipper headed home the only goal in the two sides' meeting at the Etihad Stadium at the tail end of last season.

"It was frustrating but I knew I would be out," Vidic said after the match in Oslo. "When I came back I wanted to be the same [player] as I was before the injury. This was my target and we'll see how good a job I did.

"Obviously it's hard but it's part of the football career and of any sportsman. He has the risk to have injuries and hopefully this is the past and the better days are coming for me."

United will have to hope so. It is easy to imagine City running away with next season's title given the contrast in their near-unlimited resources and Sir Alex Ferguson's recent tendency to err on the side of caution in the transfer market. Already, Roberto Mancini's squad looks stronger and, crucially, deeper in options in a number of positions.

There are few players, though, that City could sign that are capable of having an impact as significant as Vidic.

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Mancini can hope that the experience of winning the league once will stand his side in good stead in their efforts to retain the championship, but until he shows his hand in the transfer market it is difficult to argue that the red side of the city has not taken more steps in the right direction - even if supporters may have wished that they take a few further - given the improvement that can reasonably be expected of the likes of Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck on top of the arrival of Shinji Kagawa.

Nothing Sir Alex, or Mancini for that matter, could do between now and the start of the season would compare to prising 30 games out of Vidic. Expect to hear plenty of the 'like a new signing' cliche when he does make his competitive return; it might never have been more apt.

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