In a season where change has been the only constant for Manchester United, another rock on which Sir Alex Ferguson built his empire is destined to be displaced at the end of this campaign. Nemanja Vidic has announced that he will not be extending his contract with the club and while the decision makes sense given his age and injury woes, his departure will be another impediment for David Moyes’ transitional squad to overcome.
Not only will the Red Devils be losing arguably their best center-back, they will also be losing their captain and leader. When the chips are down, like they are now, you need strong characters and fighters in the team and Vidic certainly fits the bill.
Ever since his arrival at United back in 2006, the big Serbian has been renowned for his reputation as not only one of the best center-backs in world football but also one of the most fearless. His bravery knows no bounds and is his standout trait that endeared him to the Old Trafford faithful who embraced him as a cult hero.
His central defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand between 2006 and 2009 was impeccable and one to match the celebrated pairing of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister in the nineties. In fact, Ferdinand and Vidic’s record of 0.72 goals conceded per game and a 70% win rate eclipses Bruce and Pallister’s 0.89 goals per game with a 57% win rate.
Top centre-back pairing - Rio and Vidic
Furthermore, Vidic had a big part to play in Edwin van der Sar’s record breaking 14 consecutive clean sheets in the 2008-09 season. The formidable center-back started every one of those games as the Dutchman went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
Vidic isn’t the same player today though. He was never particularly gifted with pace but at 32, he’s now categorically slow and has grown injury-prone. In that respect, his imminent exit makes sense as he gave the club the best years of his career and is now keen to step aside in order to usher in a new era.
On the other hand, one could argue that he still has plenty to offer and United could do with his experience and organization at the back during this period of uncertainty. Yes, his lack of pace is a worry but in essence, all he really needs is to keep fit and find a consistent partner at the back in any one of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Chris Smalling.
The two best Premier League defenses this season feature center-backs who suffer from the two biggest drawbacks that Vidic is faced with – age and a lack of pace. At 33, John Terry has started every league game for Chelsea this season who boast the best defense having conceded just 20 goals so far. The former England captain has forged a formidable partnership with Gary Cahill, proving that he can still compete at the highest level.
The most experienced centre-back: Evans?
As far as speed goes, they don’t come much slower than Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker. While the German struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League when he first arrived in London, he has acclimatized himself since and is now sitting pretty at the top of the table. In Laurent Koscielny, he’s found a partner who compliments him, largely because he has the pace to sweep up behind him.
It just goes to show that a fit Vidic can still be the foundation of United’s back four when used properly. With his departure and the likes of Patrice Evra and Ferdinand likely to follow suit, Jonny Evans would then be the senior figure in the defensive department. Let that sink in for a minute.
Yes, the Irishman has proven himself but still suffers from injury spells while he isn’t yet someone the likes of Chris Smalling or Phil Jones can learn from. Vidic would essentially be the ideal candidate to help bed those players in.
Ultimately though, it serves no purpose to wonder about what could have been as far as United are concerned. They will hope that their young center-backs will seize this opportunity and fulfil their potential or they may have to dip into the transfer market. Either way, it will take some player to replace a battle-hardened warrior like Vidic.
What do you think? Should United have convinced Vidic to stay on for a couple of seasons? Let us know what you think.
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.