Nemanja Vidic, the last Manchester United captain to lift the Premier League

It has been five years since Manchester United celebrated Premier League glory. The captain that day was Nemanja Vidic, a true combatant of the game and a United legend. Vidic epitomised the very meaning of the word warrior with his courageous last-ditch challenges and fearless blocks in the line of danger. He captained a United side that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand and although his English was poor Sir Alex Ferguson entrusted him due to his leadership qualities and exemplary attitude wearing his heart proudly on his sleeve.

“He loved the challenge of sticking his head in there. You could tell that the thrill of contesting those 50-50 balls animated him.”Sir Alex Ferguson

Vidic wasn’t an instant success at Old Trafford. He came to the club as unknown Eastern European centre-half brought in alongside Patrice Evra, signing in January 2006 for a fee of around seven million from Russian side Spartak Moscow. His first season was average as he struggled to cope with the speed of English football, it wasn’t until his second season did the fans begin to see the talent that Sir Alex had acquired.

It goes without saying that as good as Nemanja Vidic was it was his partnership with Rio Ferdinand was the recipe that elevated their game to the next level. They were the perfect combination, Vidic’s no-nonsense defending, and aggressive approach blended perfectly with Ferdinand’s reading of the game and an eye for a pass. For many years at Old Trafford, they were the bedrock of the team, a team that dominated England, winning five Premier League trophies, three League Cups and conquering Europe in 2008.

Vidic would often lead by example, throwing his body on the line as well as burying important headers in big games. He was also rewarded with individual merit for his outstanding performances as he was voted Premier League player of the year twice and picked up the coveted Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award once.

However, it has been four seasons since his departure and a true replacement has yet to emerge. When Nemanja decided to call time on his United career it was always going to be a challenging task to find a player of similar calibre. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones initially signed by Sir Alex looked set to fill the void, but it has been an up and down journey so far with neither truly showing signs of hitting the standards that Vidic set.

Further replacements were signed in the seasons to follow but with little success. Daley Blind never quite looked physically capable for a centre back role and looks set leave Old Trafford this summer. Marcos Rojo, following a brief successful run in the first team, has struggled to nail down a starting role. Eric Bailly, perhaps the most likely to lead the United back line in the future has missed far too many games through injury.

Finally, Victor Lindelof, brought in last summer to sharpen up the back line has again under impressed and found himself in and out of the team. It is no coincidence Mourinho is still in search of a centre-half combination and that search looks set to go on this summer.

It was always going to be a tricky path for whoever followed Vidic’s footsteps, but it has been long enough, and chances have been squandered. Long gone have the days United had their Serbian leader crunching into tackles and intimidating centre-forwards. His era has passed and United are still struggling to piece a defence back together. Now more than ever is the team crying out for a Vidic-like figure to hoist the team to the next level. However, given the evolution of the game we just might not find another centre-half quite the same, a true legend in every sense.

Written by Josh Keifer

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