Just over seven years ago, with Manchester United having finished bottom of their Champions League group and struggling for a foothold in the Premier League, Nemanja Vidic was acquired for just over £7 million.
A relative unknown to anyone who hadn’t followed his time at Red Star Belgrade, Spartak Moscow and the Serbia and Montenegro national team, the defender nevertheless adapted quickly to life in the English top flight, helping United to nine wins from the 11 starts he made after arriving in January—three of which were clean sheets.
Over the next seven seasons, Vidic would help the Red Devils establish several Premier League defensive records, win five Premier League titles, three league cups and the Champions League.
Granted, it’s an imperfect comparison—United’s disappointing 2005-06 campaign and the current one. Sunday’s 1-0 win at home to Arsenal lifted them to fifth in the division, extended their unbeaten streak to nine matches and their winning run to five.
But with Vidic having struggled with knee problems since 2011 and long-time defense partner Rio Ferdinand playing out the latter stage of his career, the back line is once again the area that United should be looking to bolster, perhaps as soon as January.
It seems they already know it.
As recently as November 1, the Old Trafford outfit was linked with a move for Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala, with the Express reporting manager David Moyes is willing to include midfielder Anderson in a swap deal for the 22-year-old.
And approach him they should.
At 6'2", Mangala’s body type is similar to that of Vidic, and he also boasts a mean streak that has served the Serbia international so well throughout his career.
In fact, Mangala had to scale back his physical play before becoming a fixture in Porto’s first team, but when he did, he revealed the attributes of a defender destined for the very top: positional sense, a good first pass and the brains to understand when to throw himself into a tackle and when to hold back.
The seven goals he scored last season also marked him out as a threat on the offensive side of the ball, and at the end of the campaign—which finished with a second successive Portuguese title—he was rewarded with a full debut for France against Uruguay.
Now, United have other positions to address as well, and over the next few years they’ll no doubt give them the attention they require.
But in each of their last five title-winning seasons they were, first and foremost, a difficult team to break down. Everything else they accomplished on the pitch—the goals, the occasional bit of flair and magic—stemmed from that solid base.
It’s a base in need of maintaining once again, and just as Vidic proved the answer back in 2006, so too could Mangala in 2014.