Man United: Vidic & Rio Going In The Same Window Would Be Disastrous
As Manchester United fans debate amongst themselves over whether or not Moyes should be still their manager come May one member of staff has already made his mind up.
David Moyes will not be Nemanja Vidic’s manager next season. United’s captain confirmed he would be leaving in the summer and Moyes was quick to state it was a mutual decision. Even though it probably wasn’t.
The Serb’s long-term defensive partner also looks set to be leaving Old Trafford. Although Rio Ferdinand hasn’t stated anything about his future it does look likely that he’ll either retire or head abroad, possibly to America. Whatever he decides I’m sure David McDonald will be telling us first.
The realisation that United are likely to head into the 14/15 season without Vidic and Ferdinand evokes mixed emotions for the Reds. Their partnership at the heart of United’s defence was considered one of the best centre-back parings in football. This appraisal was justified when United won the Champions League in 2008, the peak of the partnership. Of course the win is mainly accredited to Cristiano Ronaldo and his support in Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney but it was the defence and mainly Ferdinand and Vidic that allowed the front three to concentrate solely on attacking as the defence was always ensured.
Fast-forward to today and neither are the defenders they once were, Ferdinand at 35 has had a natural regression after defying back trouble he encountered in the twilight of his career. Vidic was not as lucky as Ferdinand and his injuries, primarily his knee, has meant at 32 he simply cannot put in the towering performances United fans were accustomed to in 2008.
But despite their ability not being what it once was Ferdinand and Vidic should not be used in the past-tense only so readily. Next season as they leave, United’s most experienced centre-back will be Jonny Evans who is just 26. After Jonny comes Chris Smalling, 24 and Phil Jones, 21. Smalling and Jones have a combined appearances for United of 127. It is a big amount considering their age but it does not tell the whole story. Both have been victims of their own versatility. Jones has played more times not in centre-back than he has in his natural position. Smalling has been, this season under Moyes and previously under Ferguson, used as a backup right-back to Rafael as much as he has been backup to Ferdinand and Vidic.
So it would seem that next season is the year Jones and Smalling will be prioritised as centre-backs only. But as they are both young they will make mistakes and this is where experience players hold their value. Experienced/older players offer guidance to young players when things go amiss, they also offer a security to them. An example to that would be the development of Jonny Evans.
Jonny Evans is in this moment of time Manchester United’s best performing centre-back. He has exceeded the expectations of what his own potential showed. This is firstly down to him and his hard work to achieve the high standard he is now at but also to his two mentors, the outgoing Ferdinand and Vidic. When Jonny made his breakthrough he had less pressure on him then others might do. Of course he was ridiculed like all young players when his naivety was present in his defending, but it was always greeted with a ‘well Vidic will return from injury soon’ or ‘Rio’s calmness will be a welcome return.’ There wasn’t an expectation for Evans to immediately become better than the players above him.
What Evans is now, is a composed defender who isn’t afraid to go in for any tackle and has fantastic timing when he does. He is assured in himself and is one of few candidates to take Vidic’s armband next season.
You can also look at Ferdinand’s early career as a United player. Bought for a record British transfer at the time it was obvious that he possessed the traits to become a great centre-back which he of course did. But what he also had beside him was a World Cup winning defender beside him. Laurent Blanc may never have reproduced a France ’98 performance for United but you can be sure he passed on some vital words of wisdom to Rio Ferdinand and the two defenders shared a key sense of composure and intelligence when on the field during their peak.
A final example would be the improvement in discipline of Arsenal’s French centre-back Laurent Koscielny. This can be accredited to defensive coach Steve Bould or his natural maturity but I would be hesitant to underplay the importance of his partner Per Mertesaker. Mertesaker and Koscielny share an equal importance in Arsenal’s defence and after a year of adjusting to the league from Mertersaker the two look more comfortable together than any other Premier League defensive two this season.
The importance of having experienced men is evident and shows they can hold their value even when their on-field performances suggest otherwise. Of course this is an unfortunate scenario for David Moyes with his relationship with Rio deteriorating by the team sheet announcement and Nemanja already a confirmed goner. But he should think about bringing in a stop-gap solution when the two do leave as the problem stretches further as the last of the experienced defenders at United left-back Patrice Evra also looks like a likely leaver come June. Leaving the Scottish manager with more rebuilding next summer than he should be doing.