With Chelsea dominating the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson knew he needed something special to overcome Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering team.
Back in late 2005, the wise old manager knew he’d done just that when he convinced the club to invest around £7 million to bring Nemanja Vidic to Old Trafford.
"As I keep pointing out, good defenders win you things!" the Scot boasted to MUTV (via Telegraph Sport).
The Serbian was just that, and Fergie added: "I know you need good defenders and that is exactly what this lad is." The deal was not without controversy, however, as the club were the subject of a complaint from Fiorentina, who briefly complained to FIFA about the player having signed for them first (h/t Sky Sports' Nadia Carminati).
Arriving from Spartak Moscow, Vidic would prove his new boss entirely right, repaying his faith as United instantly became the best side in England once again. He would help them reclaim the league title for the first time in four years and usher in one of the most trophy-laden eras in their history.
In his seven full seasons in Manchester, the 32-year-old has added another four Premier League crowns to that initial one, also earning three League Cup winners' medals, lifting the 2008 Champions League trophy and a Club World Cup.
He was the Player of the Season in both 2009 and 2011, becoming the first defender to be given that honour, and has been the official club captain for the past three years.
Now that stay is coming to an end, with Serie A giants Inter unveiling Vidic as their newest player this week, covering his signing extensively on their official website.
He is rumoured to have agreed a deal worth €2.3 million per season—after tax and not including bonuses—according to Gianluca Di Marzio. The Italian transfer expert, writing on his own website, stated that the contract will last two years, with an option for a third should the player achieve certain targets during the duration of his stay.
Speaking via the Inter website in that same statement, the Italian club’s new president, Erick Thohir, was as effusive as Sir Alex Ferguson had previously been, telling them:
Vidic is a world-class player. I'm extremely happy to have completed this deal to bring Nemanja to Milan. He's one of the world's best defenders and his qualities, international pedigree and charisma will be an asset to the team and help bring through our younger players. He will bring added value to the club and is another piece of the great Inter side we are building.
Whether that description of the player remains accurate is debatable, however, with his recent form being far removed from that which saw him viewed as one of the best defenders in the world.
He has started making mistakes and has been caught out of position a few times, leaving many to wonder just what Inter will be getting for their money.
Looking to this season, his statistical averages have fallen, with both his figures for tackling (1.3 per game) and interceptions (1.9) among the worst of his career according to stats site WhoScored.com. His 10.8 clearances per game are second only to Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel (11.6), however, and it is not difficult to imagine him fitting neatly into Walter Mazzarri’s tactical setup.
The Inter coach insists upon using a three-man back line, and Vidic could well be used in the central role within that formation. There, protected by younger, quicker players, he can use his footballing intelligence and his passing to lead the defence as he has always been an excellent on-field communicator and distributor.
He averages 44.2 passes per game this term, completing 85.2 per cent of them, figures that would see him rank among the best at Inter and enable the team to build play from the back as the coach demands.
With players such as Walter Samuel and Diego Milito seemingly set to leave the Nerazzurri this summer—and Javier Zanetti turning 41 before 2014-15 begins—his leadership on the pitch could also prove an invaluable addition.
So too could the prestige of luring the current Manchester United captain to the club, particularly as Thohir looks to raise awareness of the club’s brand in the Far East, where the Old Trafford side are already hugely popular.
Yet all that pales into insignificance when considering how this move will ultimately be judged: by what he does on the pitch in Serie A.
He is unlikely to be given the same time to adapt as he was in England, where he told the Observer that "the start was hard for me." He went on to reveal that Sir Alex Ferguson "was patient to wait for me to improve." He is unlikely to find that same nurturing attitude this summer.
Inter and their fans are desperate to see the club challenging again and will hope Nemanja Vidic can lead them there the way he did for Manchester United.