Is Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic the Same Player He Was in 2008?
In 2008, Nemanja Vidic was arguably the finest defender in the world.
The towering Serbian centre-back was a rock in a Manchester United side that claimed both Premier League and Champions League glory that year.
The Red Devils conceded only 22 goals in 38 league games. Vidic and central-back partner Rio Ferdinand helped form the most formidable back line in the country.
ManUtd.com's review of Vidic's season said, "His partnership with Rio is increasingly proving to be the Noughties’ answer to the Nineties’ classic axis of Bruce and Pallister."
The next year he was named Premier League Player of the Season and included in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.
Since agreeing to sign for Sir Alex Ferguson's United on Christmas Day in 2005, there have been few more reliable or consistent players at Old Trafford.
The £7 million signing has proven himself one of the best bargains of the Scotsman's managerial tenure.
With David Moyes having now taken the reins, there is little to suggest that Vidic's role at United will change.
He remains club captain. He was seated next to Moyes at the manager's first press conference, his prominence marked.
"I’m looking forward to working with David, and I believe I will have the same success I had with Sir Alex," he told reporters (via The Sun).
But with Vidic turning 32 this year, there have been a few dissident voices that have suggested the Serbia international is past his peak.
Is he the same player he was in 2008?
It would be difficult to describe Vidic as the best of his peers now. Crippling injuries kept him out for the best part of 2012.
If there are doubts about him, they mostly regard his current physical state.
His accelerating age has naturally brought with it a decline in his mobility. This has not been a decline as noticeable as that of Rio Ferdinand's, though.
Over the course of the past two seasons, he has played only 25 league games.
Vidic is injured at the moment. But Moyes moved to quash talk this week that he might miss the side's opening game of the season in August.
"He has had some injections. It’s sciatica. He may come out and join us, but we don’t want to make it worse by flying him across the world," he told reporters (via the Daily Mail).
The decision is a sound one. When fit, Nemanja Vidic is as crucial to the Red Devils' hopes as any player in the squad.
His return to action late last year boosted a back line that was shipping goals at an alarming rate.
Rio Ferdinand's partnership with Jonny Evans was floundering. The United veteran looked as delighted as fans of the Red Devils were to see Vidic back in the team.
Through the second half of the season, it was as if he had never been away.
According to WhoScored.com, a statistics-tracking website, his average match rating last season was second behind only Robin van Persie for Sir Alex's side.
There are few so aerially dominant as Vidic. If the ball is there to be won, he will outmuscle and outjump his opponent to claim it.
He led United in aerial duels won per game last term with 4.2 (via WhoScored.com).
He is an imposing threat to opposing forwards. Is there a more physically intimidating player?
Even into his 30s, Vidic remains fearless throwing himself into challenges.
He is a rugged player much in the vein of former United greats Steve Bruce and Jaap Stam. Bruce played at the highest level for United until he was 36.
So is he as good as he was in 2008? Maybe not, but he is still a world-class player.
He is exactly the kind of player who could thrive in Moyes' robust system, whether that is alongside Rio Ferdinand or Ezequiel Garay.
If he can stay healthy for the full campaign, the Red Devils are certain to finish with an enviable defensive record.
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