The centre-half, who Friday confirmed he would be leaving Manchester United at the end of the season, was quietly adored by Manchester United fans for his determination to play through injuries
Sometimes it seemed to happen every week, it was such a familiar sight. Nemanja Vidic challenges for an aerial ball, gets kicked, elbowed or headbutted in the process, wipes the blood off his mouth, spits out some teeth, walks off the pitch looking a little groggy and then trots back on after 2 minutes, to do it all again.
Centre-halves, of course, generally have to made of sterner stuff than the average footballer. A controversial character he may be, but John Terry is held in such regard by Chelsea supporters because he would willingly kneel down with his hands behind his back and block shots with a broken nose if he had to. Vidic was the same, a granite warrior who wouldn’t willingly be taken off if his shinbone was protruding from his sock, but has inevitably been phased out by David Moyes with his best years undeniably behind him.
Vidic met plenty of tough opponents during his United career but will be especially remembered for his gripping duels with Didier Drogba, who despite his infuriating playacting was one of the most formidably physical strikers the Premiership has seen. Their duels were gladiatorial, culminating in a curiously low-key spat during the Champions League final of 2008, when Drogba was sent off for, well, flicking Vidic’s chin.
Other incidents were between the two were purely accidental – how Vidic could even see straight when Drogba accidentally smashed him in the face with his knee is remarkable. But Vidic gave the impression of being one of those footballers who accepted that a highly paid centre-half could ill afford to mooch off the pitch with something as minor as a severe concussion and broken jaw.
His positioning, a skill often overlooked and taken for granted with centre-halves, was exemplary, his partnership with Rio Ferdinand becoming so strong that in 2007 United went six games without conceding a goal, one short of the longest record of its type since 1924. Like any good centre-half he also provided a significant goal threat at the other end, and has so far produced 21 goals in all competitions over the course of his United career.
He wasn’t infallible. He will, for instance, want to forget Fernando Torres was ever born after the Spaniard made mincemeat out of him at Old Trafford in 2012, and was often vulnerable against speedy strikers when he allowed the ball to go over the top of him, which was rare. But he will remain one of the few United players to retain ‘cult status’ that trophyless honour reserved only for the most loyal, dedicated and loved players and Manchester United. The cult status normally comes with a song and Vidic was no exception – the classic refrain that would ring out normally when Vidic had reduced an suspecting striker would be that “he comes from Serbia/he’ll f***ing murder you”.
Vidic, for his part, was polite when asked about the song, but his answer was as no-nonsense as his football. “I don’t want to hurt or injure anyone. I just want to win. I have to win, so I do what I have to do.”
“I know the words. I really thank them for their support – but I am not a killer.”