Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL - By MARK OG­DEN

NE­MANJA VIDIC was voted Manch­ester United’s Player of the Year by the club’s sup­port­ers last sea­son, but the drip-feed of spec­u­la­tion link­ing the Ser­bia de­fender with a move else­where sug­gests that it may re­quire a greater show of love from within Old Traf­ford to stem the flow of ru­mours link­ing him to Mi­lan and Barcelona.

The 27-year-old has be­come a cult fig­ure on the Stret­ford End af­ter over­com­ing a jit­tery first six months at United to carve out a rep­u­ta­tion as one of Europe’s lead­ing cen­tre-halves. Vidic’s part­ner­ship with Rio Fer­di­nand has been the rock on which United’s re­cent suc­cess has been built and, in tan­dem, the pair have of­ten proved an un­break­able bar­rier.

But the noises sur­round­ing Vidic since the turn of the year have largely sur­rounded his wife’s in­abil­ity to set­tle in Manch­ester, how the player him­self han­kers for a move to the con­ti­nent and how both AC Mi­lan and Barcelona would be pre­pared to take the for­mer Spar­tak Moscow de­fender off United’s hands.

Each time the words “Vidic” and “un­set­tled” have been paired to­gether, a swift de­nial has em­anated from the player’s camp.

Just this week, quotes at­trib­uted to his agent claim­ing that Vidic wants to move to Barcelona were de­nied within hours.

But the de­nial came with the tell-tale com­ment from Vidic’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Paolo Fab­bri, that “if Barcelona do make an of­fer for him, then it is up to United to make a de­ci­sion”.

Hardly a cat­e­gor­i­cal state­ment of Vidic’s de­sire to re­main at Old Traf­ford for the du­ra­tion of his con­tract, due to ex­pire in 2012.

Vidic him­self has spo­ken of his de­ter mi­na­tion to stay at United, but it is un­de­ni­able that his po­si­tion at the club is no longer as as­sured as it was just six months ago.

If Fer­gu­son rates Vidic as highly as he claims pub­licly, then a lu­cra­tive new con­tract will surely be thrashed out. If not, then now is the time to put out some feel­ers and gen­er­ate enough in­ter­est in the player to en­sure that he can com­mand a top salary at one of Europe’s lead­ing clubs next year.

But Vidic must ad­dress three prob­lems be­fore re-es­tab­lish­ing him­self as United’s de­fen­sive lynch­pin – namely Jonny Evans, in­juries and Fer­nando Tor­res.

There re­mains a per­cep­tion that Vidic has yet to re­pro­duce his best form since suf­fer­ing a maul­ing at the hands of Tor­res dur­ing Liver­pool’s 4-1 victory at Old Traf­ford last March. Vidic lost his aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity as Tor­res de­stroyed him for pace and won the aerial bat­tle on a dark day for United.

The in­juries that have come with his fiercely com­mit­ted ap­proach to the game have also be­come a con­cern. An an­kle in­jury suf­fered while on in­ter­na­tional duty in June forced Vidic out of United’s pre-sea­son tour of the Far East and a sub­se­quent calf in­jury has en­sured that he re­mains side­lined.

And then there is Evans. The North­ern Ir­ish­man has emerged as a gen­uine ri­val for the cen­tre­half po­si­tion in re­cent months.

Home-grown, good in the air and com­posed on the ball, Evans is blessed with the strengths of both Vidic and Fer­di­nand, de­spite lack­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence and tro­phy­win­ning track record of his team­mates. Fer­gu­son has huge faith in Evans’ abil­ity and the United man­ager is also ex­cited by the emer­gence of Craig Cath­cart, an­other North­ern Ir­ish young­ster, who ex­celled at cen­tre-half dur­ing his ap­pear­ance against Boca Ju­niors in the Audi Cup last month.

Twelve months ago, none of the above was an is­sue for Vidic. He was as close to an “un­touch­able” as you get at Old Traf­ford.

That is no longer the case and, un­less United come up with a new deal, the ru­mours about Barcelona and Mi­lan will not go away. – The Tele­graph

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