The 50: Nemanja Vidic (26)’s countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic. The Serb ends the year with a bulging trophy cabinet and having further established his reputation as one of the finest defenders in the game.

50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970
33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915
31 - Wesley Sneijder - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 887
30 - Daniele De Rossi - Roma, Serie A - Score: 878
29 - Esteban Cambiasso - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 877
28 - Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus, Serie A - Score 870

27 – Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal, Premier League – Score 862

26 – Nemanja Vidic – Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 829

To say that Nemanja Vidic enjoyed 2008 would be something of an understatement.

Not only did the Serb cement his place as one of Europe’s best defenders with a series of superb displays, he also added the Premier League, Champions League and Club World Cup to his already impressive trophy cabinet.

Although it is often Manchester United’s strikers that catch the eye, the heart of their success in 2008 can be traced back to their defence and in particular the partnership of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

The two have formed a fearsome defensive unit and Vidic’s uncompromising style is the perfect foil for the more cultured Ferdinand.

Indeed the duo remind many United fans of the days of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, another solid defensive foundation upon which the Red Devils built huge success.

Fearsome Foursome

In truth Vidic and co were miserly opposition in 2008 and those who managed to breach the United back four were few and far between.

In the Premier League, the Red Devils conceded a mere 22 goals all season long, letting in only seven at Old Trafford and keeping a sensational 21 clean sheets.

Although Cristiano Ronaldo will take most of the plaudits for United’s phenomenal campaign, Vidic’s contribution at the back cannot be underestimated and ensured that the likes of Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Carlos Tevez and co had licence to maraud forward confident their own goal was in safe hands.

Crucial Contributions

Of course Vidic is not averse to finding the back of the net himself. He has scored vital goals for United this year, not least earlier this month at Old Trafford against an obdurate Sunderland side.

The Black Cats looked to have been heading home with a precious point, and the champions appeared to be about to drop even further behind the league leaders, until Vidic popped up in the 90th minute to slot home the winner.

It wasn’t his first of the season either, Vidic netted in United’s 4-3 win over Hull City back in November, his strength and aerial ability proving to be a real threat for the Red Devils.

National Icon

Although Serbia and Vidic played no part in Euro 2008, missing out on qualification by three points, the United defender has helped to inspire his national side to a great start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.

The Serbs currently top a tough looking group seven, that also features France, Austria and Romania, with three wins and only one loss thus far.

Unsurprisingly Vidic has played his part, featuring in every game as the Serbs have conceded only three goals, and end the year looking strong contenders to reach South Africa. 

Vidic Versus Drogba

Of course, one of the highlights of Vidic’s year would undeniably be the Champions League final against Chelsea.

Having beaten the Blues to the Premier League title only days before, the Red Devils ran out winners again, this time courtesy of a penalty shoot-out.

Yet one of the key battles of the game was the showdown between Vidic and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.

The United man kept the Ivorian in check until Drogba’s frustrations boiled over to such an extent he flapped a hand at the Serb with only minutes to go and received his marching orders.

Although there were only minutes of extra-time remaining, that red card was to prove crucial as Drogba would almost certainly have taken a penalty kick in the shoot out and the Blues may well have prevailed.

He didn’t, and instead up-stepped John Terry and the rest, as they say, is history.

Seeing Red

Of course Vidic is not adverse to seeing red himself. His trip to the Club World Cup was marred by a red card in the final after he thrust an elbow in the face of Claudio Bieler and he also faced an early bath at Anfield in September as United lost to their bitter rivals 1-2.

However, manager Sir Alex Ferguson would undoubtedly drag out that well-worn adage that removing Vidic’s aggression and tenacity would rob him of the player he is and the United boss may just be right.

What is certain, is that at 27 years of age, Vidic has plenty more years at the top to come which, you suspect, is bad news for Premier League strikers.

Team Prizes:
FA Premier League 2007/08
UEFA Champions League 2007/08
FA Community Shield 2008
FIFA Club World Cup 2008

Individual Accolades
PFA Team of the Year 2007/08

Gill Clark,