Perhaps more than any other club, Manchester United has been blessed with many leaders over the years. Not all of them were club captains but legends like Bill Foulkes, Bobby Charlton, Martin Buchan, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand immediately come to mind, all had the great leadership qualities which played a major role in guiding the club to so much success. Current skipper Nemanja Vidic can now be added to that list. Since coming to Old Trafford from Spartak Moscow five years ago, the big Serbian central defender has developed into a colossus who is one of the favourites to pick up this season’s PFA Player of the Year award in the next few weeks. Vidic spoke with Gemma Thompson from Inside United magazine, where he gave his views on being a Red.
Back when you made your debut in January 2006 in the Carling Cup against Blackburn, did you envisage still being here in 2011 as one of the club’s most important players, and even wearing the captain’s armband?
I didn’t really think too far ahead to be honest. When I came here I just wanted to play and improve – that was my main target. Everything else has just happened in time. I’m lucky though because I’m surrounded by great players and great coaches and we have great facilities at the club so all that helps you. I’m very proud to have been here for five years although I must say the time has gone very quickly.
Someone sent me a photo to sign the other day from when I first joined. My hair was longer and I looked very different. I showed Pat Evra – he joined at the same time – and said, ‘Look Pat we’re getting old!’ Thankfully neither of us feels old. It’s just a fantastic club to be part of and as a team we’ve achieved great success in the last five years. I hope there will be more to come in the next five.
Do you have a specific highlight from your time at the club?
There have been a lot. Moscow, when we won the Champions League in 2008 was fantastic and winning the title three years in a row was very special. We play in a very competitive league and you fight for the whole season to win that trophy. It’s a great moment when you are successful.
As a person… it’s hard to say. I think I’m the same, but you’d be better to ask my family and friends. As a player, obviously I think I had to change in order to adapt to the game over here, but my mentality on the pitch has not changed. I still have the same hunger to play well, to improve and to win trophies as I’ve always had.
How have you managed to maintain such a high level of consistency in your game, season after season?
I think I arrived at the right club at the right time in my career. I was 24 when I signed and I was getting more mature. When you have great players around you who are very professional it helps you develop. I knew I had to adapt to a new club and the game here and I worked hard to improve everything about myself as a player, both physically and technically. I think this club gives you the opportunity to improve yourself more than any other – you have great facilities and the enthusiasm of the manager, the players and coaches. If you combine that with hard work in training you will see your rewards on the pitch.
Have you set yourself any particular aims for the next few years?
Not particularly, as I said I just hope they will be as successful as the last few have. I’m now one of the more experienced players in the team and I enjoy the responsibility that comes with that. I’m still hungry to do well and keep improving and I also want to help the young players improve. The way I play and train should be an example to them. I saw that when I first arrived with the likes of Ryan, Scholesy, Gary, Rio and Edwin and it makes you want to do the same.
On a personal note, how much are you enjoying the role of skipper?
I feel very proud. It came as a bit of a surprise even though I’d played a few games as captain. The manager said to me he wanted someone who would play regularly – Gary, Ryan and Rio had had a few problems with injuries so he wanted someone who would play most games. I know it’s a big honour and I’m enjoying the role. I haven’t changed anything in particular since becoming captain, but you have to think about your responsibilities – your behaviour, the way you play, the way you train…I know that I need to set a good example on and off the pitch.
Has the armband changed you at all or made you feel any different?
Not really. Obviously you lead the team out and do the coin toss before the game, but in terms of my game I don’t think anything has changed. I’ve always talked a lot on the pitch – you have to be able to communicate as a defender and organise things whether you are captain or not. I tend not to think about the captaincy when I’m playing; I’m just focused on doing my best for the team as I have always done.
When you look at the great characters in the side, this must be an easy side to skipper
Yes definitely. There are so many leaders in our team – players like Rio, Gary, Giggsy, Scholesy and Edwin set the example. The way they help the other players is fantastic. There are big players for this club and their motivation and hunger is still so strong. They have helped me develop and I want to help the younger players do the same.
You captained Red Star Belgrade and have led your country as well – has that helped you?
I think it’s more to do with your mentality as a player. Throughout my career I’ve always had that winning mentality, it was instilled in me from a young age when I was at Red Star just as it is in players who grow up at United, and it’s helped me a lot. Becoming captain is not something I thought about when I first joined United. When I came here I just wanted to play and improve myself. Everything else – the trophies, personal awards and the captaincy have just happened and I feel very proud about all those things.
But as I said the most important thing is having that winning mentality. You have to be focused on doing your best whether you are captain or not – all the players have a responsibility at this club to perform every week to the level the manager, staff and fans expect.
You’ve formed a great understanding with Rio Ferdinand over the last few years – is he the best defensive partner you’ve played alongside in your career?
Yes definitely, although I have to say Mladen Krstaji? and I had a great relationship for the Serbian national team. I’m not being disrespectful to the other players I’ve played with, but the results I’ve achieved with those two shows what a good understanding we have and they have both helped me improve as a player.
Should Vidic win the 2010-11 PFA Player of the Year Award?