Interview: Sam Diss
Images: Offside Sports Photography / TAG Heuer
Nemanja Vidić is one of those players that would strike fear into opponents. With Rio Ferdinand next to him, the pair had it all: pace, quality on the ball, timing, position, occasional shows of force that could make your blood curdle, goals, really important goals. If you were a centre forward at the time, you knew you were in for a battle. And if you were to say Nemanja and Rio were, for a time, the best centre half pairing in the world, few would have been able to argue against you.
When Vidić went to Manchester, he came with a reputation: the jewel in the crown of a generationally great line of Serbian defenders, the centrepiece of their “Famous Four” that took Serbia & Montenegro to its first World Cup in 2006 with just a single goal conceded in qualifiers.
Signed in January, his first half-season was relatively quiet. What followed would not be: five Premier League titles, three League Cups, and a Champions League plus wins for Premier League Player of the Season in 2008–09 and 2010–11. But that first title was a special one...
We sat down with the Man United legend at TAG Heuer's Premier League Pressure Test event in Manchester to talk about the Serb’s very first league win.
MUNDIAL: How did it feel to be a young player signing for Manchester United?
Nemanja Vidić: It was December 2005 when I got the call: Man United were asking me to sign. That was a shock for me; I was having some negotiations with other clubs. Fergie called me at the end of December and, within five days, I was a Man United player. I was playing for Spartak Moscow at the time and had great success with the national team. We qualified for the World Cup. I think that was the reason Fergie wanted me to come to the club...
How did it feel to win the Premier League in your first full season at Man United?
It was an amazing atmosphere, the day we won the trophy. We celebrated at Old Trafford, and my family was there as well. It was a difficult season because Man United hadn’t won [the league] for three or four years before that. There was really a lot of tension in the last stage of the season: the players, the fans, we were all a bit nervous. Then we won it, and it was relief, happiness, and the celebration I will never forget. I won five titles at Man United, but the energy we had all season and the fact that we hadn’t won it for a long time, that made it a special one.
Where does that rank in your list of career achievements?
It is right next to the Champions League final in Moscow.
Was there a point in the season when you thought: ‘Hold on, we could actually win the League here’?
December was critical. That period was the deciding time, and we knew that if we passed January and February, we had a good chance of winning. After the middle of February, we realised that this could be our season...
Then did you start to get a little nervous?
No, then we started to have more confidence and belief. But obviously, you get more nervous in the last four or five matches because then you never know what can happen. You are scared of what’s coming. Alongside the younger players, we had some experience in the team, players who had won many titles before. It was great team; we had a balance of youth and experience.
Tell me how Fergie was at that time. What did he say to keep everyone focused?
I think he didn't really talk about it that much. Everyone talks about the hair dryer, but in my career, and I was at Man United nine years, I don’t think I had it once. I saw him angry maybe three, four times. I think he was trying to get the best out of us, not judging the players and criticising them. With the media now and TV, if you’re at Man United, every game is watched by 300, maybe 400 million, people. So, he realised he needed to support the players. He did that really well and helped us to be our best.
What did it feel like at that period? You to be at the peak of your powers winning that first league title. When you think back, now you’re retired, how does it feel?
It’s a great achievement. The first title set up everything else that came. Most important for the manager is that the players believe they can do something. At the time we had gone three years without winning, and we had young players. When I came we had Patrice, Michael Carrick, Ronaldo was young—he hadn’t won a trophy yet, Wayne Rooney, and Rio Ferdinand. You need a big trophy to get players to believe they are good enough to do it. That belief is the biggest thing that we got from that title, then we played in three Champions League finals and won four more Premier Leagues, but the first one was the key.
Nemanja Vidic was speaking on behalf of TAG Heuer, Official Timekeeping Partner of the Premier League, to promote the TAG Heuer Premier League Pressure Test.
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