MUMBAI: Nemanja Vidic’s broken nose forms an uneven, jagged silhouette against ‘The Football Movement’ posters that he happily poses against. In the city for a two-day football conference, the Serbian wears his most famous battle scar comfortably. Proudly even. It is lingering proof of the number of times Vidic put his body on the line for his job.
“But even my kids, I tell them to play as a forward,” says the former Manchester United captain. “It’s difficult, life at the back. You’ve to defend for 90 minutes and then if you make one mistake, you’re the worst (player) on the pitch. As a forward, you don’t play 90 minutes, and then if you score the goal, you’re the champion,” added Vidic.
The 36-year-old, who played at United for eight-and-a-half years, and won five Premier League trophies and a Champions League trophy, is the only defender in the uber-competitive English League to have won the Player of the year award twice (2009, 2011).
The 6’4” Vidic, along with his fellow centre-back Rio Ferdinand, were the bedrocks of United’s success. But with defenders now expected to, and encouraged to, play a part in the team’s attacking prowess, the Serb believes that their burdens have become heavier.
“You have a defender who is good at defending — that was the kind of mentality at my time. Now, they want both (in one player). So it’s very difficult when you’re building from the back, playing from the back to switch to becoming a tough and strong defender. I think it’s not easy. I don’t know many players (who have) achieved this kind of play.”
As one of the hardest defenders in the game, Vidic has seen how difficult life gets in the heat of the battle on the football pitch. But he’s seen worse, growing up in war-stricken Serbia. Ethnic troubles grew in a divided Yugoslavia in the 1990s, putting trivial pursuits like football on hold when the country came under heavy bombing by the UN.
“To be fair when trouble broke out for the first time in 1991, I was only 10 years old and didn’t really feel it,” he says. “After that, we have a war in Kosovo. That’s when they bombed the country. I stopped playing football for three-four months, country was bombed. It was a difficult situation.
“But I don’t think it’s because of the war that we are tougher. Even before, with Yugoslavia, we were very good. Now we are split countries — Serbia and Croatia. But we are good at sport. We are proud as a nation. We’ve a mentality... I don’t know how to explain. We are fighters.”
The Serb, a few months ago, put his attitude in a nutshell: ‘You can fix a broken nose but if you let somebody score your pride cannot be fixed.’
Having retired from football, with his pride intact, in 2016, the Serb is now keenly pursuing a pro coaching license.