Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic a pairing to remember
Even as they depart together, their differences stand out. Nemanja Vidic announced in February that he would leave Manchester United, giving him three months of farewells. Rio Ferdinand’s exit was only formalised and finalised after the season ended.
A self-publicist was denied the opportunity to be the centre of attention. It was a paradoxical end to 12 years of service. Vidic was celebrated in the knowledge that the clock was ticking down on his United career.
The uncertainty surrounding Ferdinand continued for a day after his 455th and, ultimately, final United game at Southampton on Sunday.
Then the tributes poured in.
“A Rolls Royce,” teammate Michael Carrick said on Twitter. “The best all-round centre-back.”
It was a distinction. Ferdinand was a footballer supreme, smooth and stylish when sprinting, elegant in possession and equipped with the ability to play almost anywhere on the pitch.
Vidic was the ultimate stopper. “Simply the best out and out defender I’ve seen,” Carrick said. “Aggression and desire to win at all costs, scared centre forwards to death.”
Interim manager Ryan Giggs, writing in the programme, deemed the Serb: “Probably the best defender I have ever played with.”
Considering the longevity and quality of Giggs’s United career, it is quite a compliment.
It is worth remembering that, until Vidic’s 2006 arrival, Ferdinand was an unfulfilled talent, a £30 million (Dh184.5m) signing who had underachieved and served an eight-month suspension for missing a drug test.
Vidic made Ferdinand a United great, and together they formed Europe’s finest and most frugal defence. In 114 league games between 2006 and 2009, they only conceded 73 times.
They won the Uefa Champions League in 2008, with the defence, anchored by Ferdinand and Vidic, only breached once in the last six games.
They were United’s second superb defensive pairing of the Premier League era. Outstanding as Jaap Stam was, the Dutchman did not spend seasons with the same sidekick.
Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister did. “Dolly and Daisy,” as Sir Alex Ferguson nicknamed them – and Pallister admitted he never knew which nickname was applied to him – were another blend of steel and silk.
Perhaps that is the way with the finest central-defensive duos. They are not clones, but players with complementary skills.
Consider Chelsea’s outstanding pairing.
John Terry brought aerial ability and the passing skills of a midfielder as well. Ricardo Carvalho was quicker, more of a man-marker and a specialist at the last-ditch recovery challenge.
Between them, they had every attribute covered. Factor in a well-drilled defensive structure, a magnificent goalkeeper (Petr Cech) and a world-class holding midfielder (Claude Makelele) and it explains why Chelsea only conceded 15 league goals in 2004/05.
There is a case of saying that, at his peak, Marcel Desailly was better than either, but Chelsea were at their most resilient after the Frenchman’s departure.
Terry and Carvalho benefited from Jose Mourinho’s attention to detail, just as Arsenal’s legendary back four was organised by the puritanical George Graham.
Arsene Wenger profited, having the sense not to break them up. Steve Bould and Tony Adams gave way to Adams and Martin Keown. The emphasis was always on defending first, on being destructive, rather than constructive in the manner of Terry or Ferdinand.
Wenger only fashioned one duo with a claim to greatness.
Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure, who anchored his 2003/04 “Invincibles”, were, in keeping with the manager’s preference for high-paced football, more mobile.
Liverpool’s strongest candidates reached their peak the following year. Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, two of the heroes of Istanbul, brought more solidity than speed.
They were kindred spirits, shorn of stardust but never short of spirit.
“Sami was arguably the bargain buy in Liverpool’s history,” Carragher said in his autobiography. “One of the greatest defenders ever to grace Anfield.”
Vidic and Ferdinand’s places in the Old Trafford pantheon are secure, too.
Together, however, they were better than the sum of their considerable parts.
It is why, though United were right to release the Englishman, they can lament what they have lost.
Follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE
Published: May 16, 2014 04:00 AM