On the 7th December 2011, Manchester United headed to St Jakob Park, home of then current Swiss champions FC Basel knowing they needed a point to gain qualification into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. After the final whistle blew, United’s Champions League journey had come to a shuddering halt due to a humiliating 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Swiss side.
However the game was slightly overshadowed for many Reds when they saw their dominant skipper, and arguably the best centre back in the world, fall awkwardly during a challenge with Basel’s Marco Streller leading to Vidic being stretchered off and subsequently being replaced by Jonny Evans. Many United fans must have feared the worst at the time. The news every Red had been dreading was confirmed two days later by Sir Alex, Vidic had ruptured his cruciate knee ligament, the Serbian’s season was over.
Once Vidic’s injury was confirmed, United, who were trailing neighbours City by five points and a far inferior goal difference were beginning to be written off by pundits for the title, with Matt Le Tissier claiming the Serbian’s injury had probably ended United’s chances of retaining their 20th crown.
At the time it was hard to argue with them due to the sheer importance of Vidic to not only United’s back four but their whole team. Prior to Vidic’s injury United had started to shore up their defensive problems. United were too open at the back and with Vidic missing through the early part of the season, opposing teams were creating chance after chance against United’s inexperienced back four. This issue was capped off by neighbours City’s 6-1 mauling at Old Trafford, a game when Vidic did not feature. After City’s emphatic win, United only conceded one goal in their next five games with Vidic returning to the side.
His leadership qualities and defensive ability is clear for all to see. Since signing for United in January 2006 for £7 million from Spartak Moscow, Vidic has developed into a world class centre back. His partnership with Rio Ferdinand has blossomed over the years helping United gain new heights of success. Both of them were included in the PFA Team of the Year for three seasons running from 2006-2009. Vidic himself has collected nearly every individual accolade. He was named Barclays player of the season in both 2009 and 2011 and in the same years was named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.
Once Vidic’s injury was confirmed, Sir Alex put his trust in Jonny Evans partnering Rio Ferdinand for the remaining five months of the season. The Northern Irishman had a torrid time in the Manchester derby in October which saw him sent off. However Fergie’s trust in the young centre back paid off. He was arguably Uniteds most consistent defender post Christmas and helped United come within an inch of that 20th title.
In my opinion many United fans can look to the forthcoming season with relative optimism. To push City to within 60 seconds from the title knowing they had their skipper out for half of the season is one reason to be hopeful. Also with Evans having such a fine second half to the campaign whist filling in for Vidic, a future centre back partnership between the two could be as powerful as the Rio/Nemanja partnership that dominated for years. If the Serbian stays injury free next season, who knows what the red half of Manchester might achieve.