One-On-One: Ne­manja Vidic

DID FERGIE STOP HIM FROM JOI NING THE ARMY? COULD HE HAVE SIGNED FOR LIVER­POOL? HAS HE EVER AC­TU­ALL Y MUR­DERED SOME­ONE?

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view Andy Mit­ten Pho­tog­ra­phy Mat­tia Zop­pel­laro

“Peo­ple ask me what I do these days and I tell them I’m a full-time driver,” chuck­les Ne­manja Vidic as he sits down with FourFourTwo at his favourite Ja­panese restau­rant in Mi­lan’s fash­ion­able bar-lined Via Carlo Rav­izza, close to his home and barely a mile from the San Siro. “I drive for my three boys – to school, to foot­ball. It takes a lot of time.” The Euro­pean Cup and five-time Premier League win­ner re­tired from foot­ball last De­cem­ber af­ter a dif­fi­cult spell with In­ter, but he has stayed in Mi­lan to im­prove his Ital­ian. He’s en­joy­ing time spent with his fam­ily and play­ing golf, but the Ser­bian ex-de­fender, 34, would like to be­come a coach and man­ager. He keeps in touch with sev­eral of his for­mer United team-mates and he’s sur­prised to hear that Billy Bragg sang about hav­ing an un­cle who once played for Red Star Bel­grade. But first, your ques­tions…

What were you like at school? It’s hard to imag­ine you mess­ing about!

Matt Burgess, via Twit­ter I was best at sports! I went to school be­cause I had to, but I wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in work­ing at school. I would not en­cour­age my own chil­dren to be like me when they’re at school.

What is it like when grow­ing up in a war­zone? Is it true your games as a kid were de­layed by bomb­ing raids?

Char­lotte, via Twit­ter When they started bomb­ing I went back to my home­town. We didn’t know how bad it was go­ing to get. When the bomb­ing started, we heard sirens and went to the bomb shel­ter. We tried to live a nor­mal life. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel like I was liv­ing in a war­zone, but my town was bombed five times. They took out the strate­gic tar­gets, but they were in the cen­tre – the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­tre which was 200 me­tres from my home. I heard the big crash. No­body died, thank­fully. I’m not po­lit­i­cally ori­en­tated any­way, but bombs are sad to see – not just in Ser­bia, but any­where in the world. Your un­cle and grand­fa­ther were both ref­er­ees. Did they ever give you any tips for get­ting away with some of the game’s dark arts? An­thony Page, via Face­book They were good ref­er­ees and my un­cle ref­er­eed five derby games be­tween Red Star and Par­ti­zan. They told me that if I re­spected the ref­eree, the ref­eree would re­spect me back. I tried that in the be­gin­ning and had some suc­cess with ref­er­ees, but not all. In gen­eral, I didn’t have prob­lems with ref­er­ees.

How does the Eter­nal Derby com­pare to the der­bies in Manch­ester and Mi­lan? What’s the cra­zi­est thing you saw hap­pen in one of those matches?

Rob­bie, via Face­book I stood with Red Star’s hard­core fans when I was a young player at the club. I moved to Bel­grade at 15 to play for the youth team. I sang with them and I loved it, be­cause I was a fan of the club since I was very young. It was crazy on the ter­races – you jump around and sing the whole game. In Bel­grade, I knew the safe roads home from the derby, but it was more dif­fi­cult go­ing to Par­ti­zan’s sta­dium. I had to be care­ful, be­cause if you’re recog­nised as a Red Star sup­porter there could be trou­ble. The trou­ble now has gone too far. Manch­ester United con­ceded six goals in your first two matches with the club, in­clud­ing four in a de­feat at Black­burn. Did you won­der what you’d let your­self in for? How dif­fi­cult were those early weeks? Eliot Greene, via Face­book It was more than weeks – it was four or five months. I was train­ing with great play­ers and strug­gling to stay on my feet. They were fast and strong. [Cris­tiano] Ron­aldo, [Wayne] Rooney and [Ruud] Van Nis­tel­rooy would run at me in train­ing – [Louis] Saha, too. They were too much. I ar­rived in Manch­ester un­fit be­cause I came in Jan­uary, the Rus­sian sea­son’s break. I did a quick two-week fit­ness course and they wanted me to play. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. It’s in­ter­est­ing that the reader men­tions Black­burn. I don’t have the best mem­ory, but I re­mem­ber this clearly be­cause the fans still ap­plauded at the end. I couldn’t un­der­stand it – we hadn’t won the game. I was in shock. You wouldn’t have got this in Ser­bia.

Is it true that Liver­pool wanted you?

Billy, via Twit­ter Yes. Rafa Ben­itez called me and I nearly went there. I was in­ter­ested in go­ing,

PLAYED 76-79 Parma 79-87 Roma 87-92 Mi­lan 81-91 Italy MAN­AGED 95-96 Reg­giana 96-98 Parma 99-01 Ju­ven­tus 01-09 Mi­lan 09-11 CLUBS Chelsea 2000-11-0413 Red-Paris-Star-Saint-Bel­gra-de-Ger­main 2000-01 Spar­tak Subot­ica-13-15Real (loan) Madrid 2004-06 Spar­tak Moscow 2006-14 Manch­ester United 2014-16 In­ter Mi­lan

“I STRUG­GLED FOR FOUR OR FIVE MONTHS WHEN I JOINED MANCH­ESTER UNITED. I COULDN’T STAY ON MY FEET IN TRAIN­ING”

but my English wasn’t good and I was strug­gling to com­mu­ni­cate. Then Manch­ester United came. Fergie called me at my apart­ment and said: ‘I watched you play for Ser­bia against France – I want you here’. United were de­ci­sive. Ev­ery­thing was done very quickly, within two days.

Who did you hate fac­ing more: Di­dier Drogba or Fer­nando Tor­res?

In­der­jit Singh, via Twit­ter Drogba was tougher. Tor­res al­ways cre­ated a chance to score, but Drogba was on you for the full game. Peo­ple say: ‘You had a dif­fi­cult game against Tor­res’, but it was just the one game. I went to head the ball but changed my mind and tried to pass to Ed­win. I mis­judged the dis­tance and Tor­res scored.

Were you in the run­ning to take a penalty in the 2008 Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal? How pre­pared were you to take one be­fore Ni­co­las Anelka missed Chelsea’s sev­enth kick?

Neil Mee­han, Old Traf­ford We knew the five. Af­ter that, it was about who felt con­fi­dent. I was go­ing to shoot sev­enth or eighth – me or Gig­gsy. I said he had more ex­pe­ri­ence and should shoot. He did, and I was next, but I wasn’t needed. Gig­gsy was still sharp when he was 40, you know. He could still change di­rec­tion quickly.

Af­ter the 2008 fi­nal, what were your move­ments be­tween leav­ing the Luzh­niki Sta­dium and fly­ing home?

Calvin Bet­ton, via Twit­ter That was a great night. I’d played for Spar­tak Moscow in Luzh­niki and I had friends who came to see me. Rus­sia was good to me. It was the first time I’d left Ser­bia and it was hard in Rus­sia at first. Over time, I learned about Rus­sia and en­joyed it. I was happy to go back there with Manch­ester United. I didn’t sleep that night in Moscow. It was a long party and I was drink­ing fast. Maybe that’s why I for­got that Drogba wanted to punch me dur­ing the game.

How much did you hate the food and weather in Manch­ester?

An­thony Mur­phy, via Face­book I strug­gled with the weather in the be­gin­ning. [ FFT: Even af­ter liv­ing in Moscow?] Come on. Moscow is cold in win­ter but you don’t have rain – you have sun­shine. I was OK with the food in Eng­land: it was good at the train­ing ground and I had a wife at home who knew how to cook, es­pe­cially Ser­bian dishes. She makes an ex­cel­lent pun­jene pa­prike – pep­pers stuffed with meat, onion and spices. At Car­ring­ton, they asked me if I’d like Ser­bian food. They were ad­vanced like that. Our three boys – they’re now aged nine, seven and four – were born in Manch­ester. I had the best time of my ca­reer there and we still have a house there. The only thing I had a prob­lem with was the weather. I re­ally en­joyed Manch­ester, the so­cial life and its peo­ple. You seem quite a fear­some chap. Was Fergie ever brave enough to give you the hairdryer? Matthew Chant, War­ring­ton I don’t know about ‘brave’ – he was the boss. He could sack me if he wanted. But I think it’s good to have these strong con­ver­sa­tions be­tween man­ager and player. They can lift the player. Even the hairdryer was used for a pur­pose. But phys­i­cally I was stronger than him!

Is it true Fer­gu­son talked you down from en­list­ing in the Ser­bian army?

Joe Thom­lin­son, via Face­book Good ques­tion. Fergie said this in his book. He and I walked onto the train­ing pitch and he asked me what was hap­pen­ing in Ser­bia. He could see I was an­gry and that’s how he in­ter­preted it. But the truth is that I never spoke about go­ing back to serve in the army.

Is it true you be­came a darts fan when you were in Eng­land? Do you play?

Ha­pag Lloyd, Sal­ford It’s true. I didn’t even know what darts was. I loved it be­cause of the at­mos­phere – es­pe­cially when they got a 180. Peo­ple sing and jump. I stopped play­ing when I left Eng­land, but I prac­tised a lot there and I used to be good. I can’t re­mem­ber what my best checkout is, though!

How did you feel when David Moyes made you and Rio Fer­di­nand watch videos of Phil Jagielka de­fend­ing? Was it as big a deal to the pair of you as has since been made out?

Christo­pher Barnard, via Twit­ter [ Pauses] Play­ers don’t al­ways like what man­agers say to them. That’s nor­mal – it even hap­pened with Fergie. The sad thing for me wasn’t any spe­cific in­ci­dent; it was that with David as man­ager and me as cap­tain, we didn’t do well. As a team we wanted to prove peo­ple wrong af­ter Fergie went. We hoped to be bet­ter. We were not. We all lost and must share the re­spon­si­bil­ity and guilt, David as man­ager and me as cap­tain.

Would you have stayed an­other year if you knew Moyes was leav­ing?

Colm Scott Byrne, via Twit­ter The de­ci­sion was made be­fore David left. I felt it was time to leave. I didn’t push for a new con­tract. I had in­juries and felt my body wasn’t the same as it was when I was younger. I saw that the car was run­ning down and the brake wasn’t work­ing prop­erly.

Was the tackle on Kyle Walker at White Hart Lane in 2013 your best? He went about six feet up in the air!

Lee Thomas, via Twit­ter I don’t re­mem­ber all of my tack­les – I was some­times play­ing with con­cus­sion – but I re­mem­ber that one. Kyle went hon­estly for the ball and so did I. It’s why I like that chal­lenge: it doesn’t mat­ter who won; what mat­tered is that we both went for the ball. I love that about English foot­ball and hope it never changes.

Why did you re­lease that photo of you sign­ing for In­ter when you still played for Manch­ester United?

Doco, Belfast I had signed for In­ter – ev­ery­one knew that. The pic­ture came af­ter that. I didn’t pub­lish the pic­ture, but the club wanted to pub­lish it and I un­der­stood.

Why didn’t it work out for you at In­ter?

Lee Em­ble­ton, via Face­book The club was go­ing through a lot of changes, in the same way as

Manch­ester United were – maybe even more. At the same time as I ar­rived, seven or eight play­ers left, and im­por­tant play­ers, too: Javier Zanetti, Este­ban Cam­bi­asso, Diego Mil­ito. There were big ex­pec­ta­tions for me and I tried hard, but there was trou­ble for me from the start. We played three at the back. I played in the mid­dle and felt like I was there to fix prob­lems, but even if there were no prob­lems you’d get them in that po­si­tion. I didn’t en­joy that role – I hadn’t played it for a long time. I tried to adapt but it just didn’t hap­pen. Then [Roberto] Mancini ar­rived. We didn’t start well; I didn’t play for two or three months. We didn’t have a great re­la­tion­ship. Then I got in­jured. That’s ba­si­cally the story.

Did the In­ter squad have the same win­ning men­tal­ity as the play­ers at Manch­ester United did?

F Mur­ray Abra­ham, New York When I ar­rived at United we had a lot of young play­ers who hadn’t won much. Some­times it’s hard to un­der­stand what it’s like to win some­thing. The per­cep­tion of win­ning isn’t the same as the re­al­ity. I be­came a win­ner at United; I never had the chance to be a win­ner at In­ter.

Who was the hard­est player you faced in the Premier League? And how would you deal with Diego Costa if you were still play­ing now?

Jay Pol­litt, via Twit­ter Drogba was phys­i­cally the hard­est; [Luis] Suarez and [Ser­gio] Aguero were the best. Drogba would be even bet­ter if he didn’t get so many in­juries. They were the top three I played against. Costa? I’d deal with him like I did the others. You are what you are and I played my own game against ev­ery­one.

Would you agree that there’s a real lack of top-class cen­tre-backs in the game right now? Who is the best up-and-com­ing de­fender that you have seen re­cently?

Ash, via Twit­ter Foot­ball is chang­ing, with Barcelona be­ing the best ex­am­ple of that. Mid­field­ers play as cen­tre-backs. But if you face Barcelona then you are play­ing against a team who will al­ways at­tack. Even at United, though, Da­ley Blind and Michael Car­rick play as de­fend­ers. Left-backs can play as cen­tral de­fend­ers. That wouldn’t hap­pen be­fore. Is the game chang­ing or are there not enough de­fend­ers? I’m not sure. Do we want de­fend­ers any more? Some man­agers don’t know what they want. I know what I like: de­fend­ers to de­fend. De­fend­ers bring bal­ance to a team and hav­ing too many non-de­fend­ers can lose that. I still be­lieve in Chris Smalling. He did well last sea­son and he can im­prove and do bet­ter. He has the men­tal­ity to de­fend, and the phys­i­cal size to do it. He likes to de­fend. With a good part­ner he can be even bet­ter. What would you do if the team coach you were trav­el­ling on was at­tacked with bot­tles? What did you make of the re­ac­tion of Jesse Lin­gard & Co. when it hap­pened at West Ham? An­thony Wil­son, via Twit­ter I would hit them! [ Laughs] No, I’m jok­ing. I did see the bot­tles and I was sur­prised it hap­pened in Eng­land. I didn’t like it. Watch­ing foot­ball in Eng­land is not dan­ger­ous and I liked that. What would I do? I would prob­a­bly put my head down.

We’ve all heard the chant, but have you ac­tu­ally mur­dered any­body? Se­ri­ously, though: what do you make of the chant? Does it of­fend you?

Alan Jones, Hamp­shire It doesn’t of­fend me. It was great to hear the fans singing and to re­spect you as a player. I didn’t know it was me when they first sang it, I was so fo­cused on the game. Some­one asked me if I’d heard the song. I asked them what the fans had sung and he replied: “Well, it’s a bit tough.” The song was great. Of course I’m not a mur­derer, but I ap­pre­ci­ated fans singing for me. You said af­ter re­tir­ing from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball in 2011 that the crit­i­cism you got from the Ser­bian me­dia and sup­port­ers was part of the rea­son. Do you re­gret that now? You could have proved them wrong... Alek­san­dar, via email I don’t re­gret the de­ci­sion at all. The de­ci­sion wasn’t an im­pul­sive one; it was made over time. I didn’t have a great re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia in Ser­bia. Some of them didn’t have a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship with me and they some­times wrote sto­ries that were not true. I was fed up and re­alised I could not change what they were do­ing. So the me­dia was one rea­son, but there were others.

Should I go to Ser­bia on hol­i­day?

John Ashton, Mid­dle­ton Of course! You can have a re­ally good time. In Bel­grade, it’s re­ally nice in the sum­mer with the bars by the river. Ser­bia has a very in­ter­est­ing his­tory and it’s good value for money, too. Peo­ple say the women are beau­ti­ful and I have to agree. That’s why I mar­ried one!

If you could play one Manch­ester United game all over again, which one would it be?

Chris Bre­ward, via email The 2007 FA Cup Fi­nal. We played Chelsea and lost 1-0. I’d like to play that again and win it this time! I was very dis­ap­pointed. The FA Cup is the only tro­phy we didn’t win in my time there. I don’t want to play a game again which I have al­ready won – there’s a chance I could lose! Two other games I would re­play would be those two fi­nals against Barcelona.

Are you con­sid­er­ing a coach­ing ca­reer? What sort of man­ager do you think you’d be?

Dr. Wei Chun Loh, via Twit­ter I would like to be a man­ager, but only if I had the op­por­tu­nity first to be a coach and learn from some­one for maybe one or two years. I would take the ex­pe­ri­ences I had of the man­agers I’ve worked un­der – some great ones, such as Alex Fer­gu­son. Ne­manja the man­ager won’t be the same Ne­manja that you saw on the pitch. They are two com­pletely dif­fer­ent roles.

“I HAD THE BEST TIME OF MY CA­REER IN MANCH­ESTER. THE ONLY THING I DIDN’T LIKE WAS THE WEATHER”

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