Compared to his more vocal predecessors, Nemanja Vidic - 29 today (21 October) - is an understated United captain. But the Serbian has quietly led by example throughout his career...
In May this year, Serbia’s pre-World Cup friendly with New Zealand was on the brink of a riot. Although held at Austria’s Wörthersee Stadion, more than 10,000 Serbian fans attended, and the mood turned sour when the unfancied Kiwis took an early lead.
Furious with their team’s display, the crowd began hurling flares and empty whisky bottles onto the field. Those projectiles were soon followed onto the field by a handful of fans. Amid the chaotic cocktail of smoke, supporters and stewards sloshing about the pitch, Nemanja Vidic took charge. Grasping the stadium announcer’s microphone, he strode towards the disruptive section of the stands and made a succinct plea for calm. Unfazed, he also accepted a hug from one fan and engaged another in conversation, shortly before the stadium’s security team pounced.
The appeal calmed tensions and the game resumed. While the United defender – captain in the absence of Serbian legend Dejan Stankovic – couldn’t inspire his side to avoid an embarrassing defeat, he did achieve a greater goal: prevention of far costlier scenes of stadium disorder. That his mission was accomplished with almost total calm speaks volumes for the understated but undoubted respect Vidic commands. Now installed as United’s captain, to bring stability to a role which has rotated in recent seasons, the Serbian is the model of consistency for which Sir Alex Ferguson has been searching.
“The subject of picking the captain this year was pretty straightforward,” the United manager explains. “You want to pick a captain who is going to be playing every week. Defenders normally come in to that. So therefore I chose Nemanja Vidic, who signed a new contract. He’s going to be our most consistent player. If he’s fit, he’ll always play unless you rest him.”
But while his fitness and reliability may be the principal reasons behind Vidic’s appointment, he has long been able to boast a multitude of leadership credentials. “When I first coached Nemanja, I saw a boy with a very big talent,” recalls Zoran Filipovic, the coach who gave Vida his debut at Red Star Belgrade. “He never made errors during passing drills in training, and very early on he looked suited to English football. He had a very strong character and personality, even at 19. He loved to win, even when it was just games in training. He was so motivated. He was born a warrior. Because he was very young, he was sometimes nervous during games, but I worked very hard